Visual Experiences: The Passage North

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at 9:31 AM
Visual Experiences: The Passage North by

Previously unknown to most people in Erie, there is a roughhewn, barrel-vaulted room under the steps of the old Erie Art Museum, which was closed off from the public. Recently, with renovations, it has been turned into a gallery with such an unusual vibe that it is sure to attract many artists.

The first artist to exhibit here, with his first public exhibition, is Willie Jordan, who was immediately captivated by the atmosphere of this place. “I felt a chill wind on the back of my neck,” he relates, “and I felt that I was with people hiding; I could hear horses hooves outside and children sniffling. These folks escaped slavery in the South and were on their way to Canada.”

You could label his work as “folk art” or “outsider,” but the fact is that his is a unique vision and a distinctive expression, comprised largely of found objects from garage sales. He seems a logical successor to such artists as Jacob Lawrence, who painted flat silhouette-like figures in the 1940’s “the Migration of the Negro” series, and Horace Pippin, who did genre paintings (scenes of everyday life) at the same time, which have a similar flat homespun quality as Mr. Jordan’s. The obvious difference is that these are life-sized figures, cut-outs draped in clothing and props and installed in a 3D space rather than just hung on a gallery wall. The overriding similarity is that all three are authentic voices speaking from within their own history and cultural experience. 

I wandered around, trying to absorb it all until I spotted two figures sitting on a bench and was suddenly transported to images conjured by a friend’s memories of old women swapping stories and reminiscing while sitting on their porches, smoking pipes and chewing tobacco. All of a sudden I too began to hear horse hooves and to sense what Willie Jordan did.

Here is the opportunity to see what we see too little of: “folk art,” African-American Art in a gallery setting, and a truly only one of a kind vision. 

This exhibition continues through May 6 at the Erie Art Museum on the ground floor of the Customs House, 411 State Street, new entrance for the Erie Art Museum is Fifth Street between State and French; Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

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