Painting

Q&A: About G. Caliman Coxe (1907-1999)

 “Signals” by G. Caliman Coxe, circa 1960s. Courtesy of Filson Historical Society

“Signals” by G. Caliman Coxe, circa 1960s. Courtesy of Filson Historical Society

Understanding the Indescribable: Paintings by G. Caliman Coxe was on exhibit at the Filson Historical Society in the fall of 2017. On September 7, 2017, sculptors Ed Hamilton and William Duffy, and University of Louisville Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert Douglas appeared on LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1/Artxfm.com to talk about Coxe, who had been a big influence on them personally. Dr. Douglas is in the process of writing a book titled “An American Genius or an African Bwana Mtomo: The Life and Art of G. Caliman Coxe.”

Coxe is considered the Dean of African American artists in Louisville. He made his living as an illustrator for local theaters and, for 20 years, at the Training Support Center at the Fort Knox Army base outside Louisville. He co-founded the Louisville Art Workshop, which positioned him as a crucial mentor for a new generation of artists. 

This is an edited portion of the interview, which you can listen to in its entirety here.

 Ed Hamilton, Dr. Robert Douglas, and William Duffy in the WXOX studio on September 7, 2017.

Ed Hamilton, Dr. Robert Douglas, and William Duffy in the WXOX studio on September 7, 2017.

Keith Waits: G. Caliman Coxe is called a significant Black artist in Louisville, but really he is just a significant artist period, correct?

Ed Hamilton: About being labeled as "Black" artists, I think the powers that be just didn’t know where to put us: the critics and galleries; and it was awhile before Sarah Lansdell, who was a wonderful art critic at the Courier-journal long before Diane Heilenman or Elizabeth Kramer, and back then the paper was full of art stuff, and we all would be waiting to see who had made that Sunday edition. I saw over the years the evolution of Sarah getting rid of that label. I guess somewhere along the way they decided that we were true artists! Why are we getting labeled? You don’t label Bob Lockhart “white artist”! It took awhile for them to delete that from in front of our names.

KW: How did you first meet G.C.?

Ed Hamilton: I grew up in the heart of the Black community at Sixth and Walnut streets, and we used to have two theaters down there, the Lyric and the Grand. When I was growing up “on the block”, as we used to call it, I had no knowledge of the man whatsoever, and I was always looking at the marquees and was fascinated by the images there. Fast forward to 1969 when I was graduating from the LSA, which was then the Art Center School, and preparing my exhibition, and I asked my instructor: “My show is only going to be up for a week, Where am I going? Who can look at my work? I need some guidance. Should I be looking for another profession?” He said there’s a group of artists down in the west end, at 35th and Del Park Terrace. So I immediately went down and knocked on the door and met Fred Bond, who was the originator of the Old Louisville Art Workshop, and GC was a member, and I told these cats I wanted someone to look at my work, and they got in the car and came out to the school, and when they saw what I was doing, they said, “you gotta be with us!” I said OK. You know, I thought I was the only Black artist in Louisville at the time (laughing)! I didn’t know! I was usurped by Sam Gilliam, Bob Thompson, G.C. Coxe, and Robert Carter.

So I sat at the feet of these guys listening to them espousing all this stuff about culture, art and the diaspora of the world, you know, and then one day GC said to me, “young man, you don’t remember me?”…And I said, “no?” He went on, “I seen you romping up and down 6th and Walnut Streets all the time!” - you see, he knew my parents.

William Duffy: Fred Bond came to my school to visit the art class, and I also thought I was the only Black artist in town, so he told me to go down to the Art Workshop. GC was sitting there working on a beautiful abstract piece. I introduced myself and told him Fred Bond had told me to come to the workshop, and he said, “well, young man…I’m gonna tell you..." and he reaches in his pocket and pulls out his Barlow knife and flicks it open! "I’m not the easiest person to get to know.“ 

And I thought, maybe this is someplace I don’t need to be! That was GC, he would cut up but in a quiet way, he was never really loud or boisterous, but he made his presence felt.

 Detail of November '88 (Totem Pole with Little People) [Collection of Ed Hamilton]

Detail of November '88 (Totem Pole with Little People) [Collection of Ed Hamilton]

EH: He went down to Bridges & Smith and asked them if he could mix two kinds of paint, and they told him no. GC said, “Well, give me a can of both anyway,” and went home and started mixing them. He really liked the results. GC was so experimental, that’s why the other artists like Sam and Bob Carter would come around. GC was throwing stuff on the canvas, layering it, raking the paint around and things like that. Hard as a brick when it dried. His paint would dry so hard you could pound it with your fist.

Robert Douglas: I have bout 90% of his work archived as slides, and I have about nine hours of cassette tapes of interviews with GC. I place him as one of the first generation of African American professional artists (in Louisville). As an art historian I distinguish between trained and untrained, naïve and primitive. Of course, we are all naïve until someone recognizes our talent and we then get training, but GC was one of the first African Americans to receive a degree in art from the University of Louisville. At that time, he was convinced of his own ability, but he realized that he needed some credential from the mainstream establishment, so he got a degree.

GC was highly technical, a craftsman par excellence, and he was trained to be a craftsman in whatever he did, because he was raised on a farm by his father. His father had a classical education, and was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and his mother made sure that all the children had music and arts training. She taught them all how to use watercolors. So from the very beginning he had some teaching, because his mother had some training.

EH: GC also had three other brothers: Bill, John, and Gus, and they were all artists, painters, except that Bill became an architect operating out of the Washington, D.C. area, and Gus painted as a paraplegic, because he was hurt in WWII.

KW: So Dr. Bob, you put yourself in that second generation of African American artists?

RD: I found three or four other artists of G.C.’s generation: William Guest, who worked in Smoketown, and Carl Ramsey, Elijah Wilson, and there is at least one other.

KW: But of those names, it was G.C. who mentored the next generation?

RD: Yes. He was the stellar person of that group. The one who produced the greater volume of work, and the greatest diversity of work. I have identified 12 distinct periods for his work. In the exhibit at Filson, you see six examples.

KW: Talk about the imagery in his work.

EH: When you talk about his techniques, his work evolved into more sculptural forms. Meaning he would take, for instance, pegs or dowel rods and cut them into specific pieces and then inject that into the canvas with strips of cardboard. He’s got one piece where he’s literally taken wire and shaped it with his elliptical shapes painted onto the canvas and penetrated the canvas so that he paints the piece all one color but what happens? You have the flat surface painted the same color as the wire is painted but it gives you two different colors even though its painted the same color. But you can do that when you come away from the canvas…come away from the surface. It’s almost like Bas Relief.

WD: The back of the canvas was as much art as the surface. GC would take that wire and actually do a negative/positive sort of thing to make it stand out. So whatever wire was on the back, he would pierce the canvas, and whatever wire was on the front would intersect the wire on the back and thus raise that canvas.

Also what GC was doing, he couldn’t find the shape that he wanted, so he invented a little tool that he would use to bend the wire, so he would have square shapes in the wire, or a loop. It was all a process.

He was not only an artist. He was also an inventor.

KW: Did he show much outside of Louisville?

RD: Yes. Sam got him a show in DC, and he had shows around in different places. I curated a show that included his work in Rome and Sicily, so he exhibited internationally at least once.

 “Gemini” by G. Caliman Coxe, circa 1970s. Courtesy of Filson Historical Society

“Gemini” by G. Caliman Coxe, circa 1970s. Courtesy of Filson Historical Society


Interview by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Painting

Vignette: Ivan Villalba

 "Miami Hurricanes" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 24x48in, 2003, NFS

"Miami Hurricanes" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 24x48in, 2003, NFS

To parents who warn their children that they will never make a living as an artist, Ivan Villalba might answer, “not if you have a business plan.” Villalba’s education is in business and marketing, and he has made his own business out of marketing his original abstract paintings to corporate offices, in particular, NFL team owners and sports management.

Villalba’s splatter paintings are explosions of color designed to break up the formal trappings of the business world, but is it too far of a stretch to wonder if the expression of violence in the paint’s impact on a canvas might mirror the hard-hitting dynamic of the sport that drives his client’s economies? Impact and the result of opposing forces seem to lie at the heart of the images.

 "Seminole"  by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 48x36in, NFS

"Seminole"  by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 48x36in, NFS

The business began in 1992, in Austin TX, under the name Ivan’s Gallery & Studio, and now Villalba’s Ivann, LLC operates from his hometown of Louisville. Many of his paintings are custom painted on commission. 


Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: BS, Marketing, York College of PA, PA, 1985: MBA, International Business, University of Miami, FL, 2004
Website:

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 "Amy" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 24x48in, 2018, NFS

"Amy" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 24x48in, 2018, NFS

 "Trevor" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 30x24in, 2018, NFS

"Trevor" by Ivan Villalba, Acrylic on canvas, 30x24in, 2018, NFS


Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Curatorial

Q&A With Curator Dan Cameron

Dan Cameron is a New York-based independent curator, art writer, and educator. He is known for being the founder of Prospect New Orleans, an organization he ran from 2006-2011 — a period when he was also Director of Visual Arts for New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center (CAC).

In February and March of 2018, Cameron was Critic-in-Residence at the Great Meadows Foundation in Louisville, and on March 29 he was interviewed by Keith Waits on LVA’s Artebella On The Radio, which broadcasts live each Thursday on WXOX 97.1 FM /Artxfm.com. This is an edited portion of the interview, which you can listen to in its entirety here.

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What is your mission with Great Meadows Foundation?

It is a 2 month residency, its called a critics residency but it could also be called a curator’s residency, since I kind of wear both hats. I have been in Louisville for the past 2 months, staying in a beautiful home in New Albany, which provides me the seclusion I need to do my work.

I have been spending a lot of time in the studios of Kentucky artists, I think it is about 40 at this point, and that was the idea, for me to give advice and reaction as a way of giving back to the community for allowing me to be here. And, of course, on top of that, I’ve been giving lectures and participating in panel discussions, I’m hanging out with my colleagues, which is really a lot of fun, I just came back from Knoxville where, for the second year in a row I attended the Big Ears Festival.

My curatorial work has taken an interesting turn in that I have begun working more with performing artists and performing arts groups along with visual artists together, because I’ve never really understood why they are apart in the first place, and something about that leaves me unquiet. And I also just saw my fifth play in this year’s Humana Festival, so I’m kind of doing a deep dive into Kentucky – Louisville but also Lexington.

You say Kentucky. What was your geographic range?

I had to rein it in, to be honest. It got the point where there were places I wanted to go where it would take the better part of a day just to get there, and what I was hoping to do was see one artist, or perhaps two, and there wasn’t really an opportunity to develop a research method that would allow me to go to Bowling Green, let’s say, or Paducah, and really figure out anything and everything that would be there that would be of my interest so that when I left, I wouldn’t feel like I had given it short shrift.

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So what I worked with was a list of about 100 or more artist’s websites, almost any artist with a working website that would have been recommended by any one of four or five curators to Great Meadows Foundation. That was the initial filtering, and then I did my own filtering, and found about 50 artists whose studios I wanted to visit. Before I leave it will be 42 or 43 actual visits.

Which is a lot in that amount of time, especially if you don’t want them to be cursory, superficial, drop-ins.

It is a lot of time, and it’s also a kind of privileged connection. If you are a curator and on the road somewhere and they have booked you to do 10 studios in the same building, because you are packing so much into a limited time, there is always this sense that you are looking at your watch or looking at the door. You can have a quality experience but you’re having it within a constrained limit.

In this circumstance, in contrast, what I’ve been able to do is pretty much show up at the artist’s studio and stay as long as I need to, or want to. There are exceptions, but usually I have seen one or two artists in a day, and that allows me to feel fresh about the exchange that we are having, and also to give the time that the circumstances seem to require.

At the March 28 panel discussion at KMAC, a question was posed to you: are you going to deliver a policy report, or some kind of report card, and you made it clear that you didn’t see that as your mission, that you will somehow summarize or provide a quantifiable analysis.

Correct. I’m not part of a longer process where I am expected offer my own metrics to what’s working and what’s not in the Louisville art scene. We have an exit interview, and I will give a formal statement (to Great Meadows), but I think the understanding is that it will proceed more organically, get things going, form a relationship, and let it evolve on its own.

And that the value, as you said, is that time in the studio with those artists, and their time with you, so that - who knows, you may wind up working with them in the future?

Right, and what would normally happen…you, know we talked a lot last night (at KMAC) about the centralization of the NY art world, and how the machine would normally work for a Louisville or Lexington based artist, or elsewhere in Kentucky, is that a curator of national profile working on a new project that would make it relevant to visit studios would come to your town. The Whitney Biennial would be the obvious example, where every other year the curators would go out into the field and check out a lot of work. Very famously, Crystal Bridges spent - I think it was three years, visiting over a thousand studios, or some even more impressive number.

As an artist you want your local or regional curators to know who you are, and you want their support, but, presumably, they can only get you so far in terms of national recognition, and if that (national) curator is coming, they have 15 minutes in your studio, and they have to do a blog post, and they have to phone into a meeting, and they are checking their emails the entire time, so that is not helpful in terms of where the artist feels he or she is in terms of their work and where they want to be, and so just the idea is that a kind of professional mentoring will just happen if a natural, normal conversation unfolds in the studio context.

Are there things that surprised you about what you discovered here?

No. I think I am almost beyond surprise in a sense. What’s always wonderful is when you see outstanding artists whose name had never crossed your paths, and the point isn’t whether you might work with them in the future, the point is that you saw them in the first place.

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Photography

Vignette: Neal Johnson

 "Lightening Rod" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 16x20in, 2014, $175, archival pigment print, edition of 5

"Lightening Rod" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 16x20in, 2014, $175, archival pigment print, edition of 5

One of the missions of photography is to make us see the world around us through different eyes. We drive by a building every day on the way to work, or pass by a bridge, or a park, only rarely, if ever, stopping to see the shape and dynamic of things; how they define the personality of a community.

Architectural and contemporary landscape photographer Neal Johnson works in Louisville, Kentucky, and his deceptively simple images perform this function for the viewer, but occasionally they do much more. In “Lightening Rod”, a light fixture for a public space evokes mystery and the suggestion of an enigmatic presence representative of “the other” (think monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey). The light seems to have some intention beyond simply illuminating a dark place.

“Look Out” captures a human structure that echoes the verticality of the forest surrounding it, but it also seems to imply the limitations of human design; functional but never as prosaic as the tree it unknowingly emulates, it provides an approach that, could be argued, allows us to position ourselves as superior to nature. And “Space School” locates an arrangement of contrasting forms bisected by another strong vertical and reinforced by color and the placement of an oversize numeral character.  

That idea of disruption doesn’t preclude harmony, as we see in “Invasive”. Here Johnson suggests that such an intrusive quality emanates from the natural world, so that we are made to question some of our assumptions about the imprint our species make on the earth. Once humans began using tools, we changed the world, but how much of our invasiveness fits into the organic equation, and at what point did we tip the balance?

 "Space School" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 15x15in, 2013, $150, archival pigment print, edition of 5

"Space School" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 15x15in, 2013, $150, archival pigment print, edition of 5

Johnson will be exhibiting photographs from his 'Future Perfect' project at PART Studio, 815 South 6th Street, in the South of Broadway area of downtown Louisville, with a public reception April 26th from 6:30-9:30pm. 

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: Associates degree in graphic design.
Website: Nealparkerjohnson.com

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 "Look Out" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 16x20in, 2014, $175, archival pigment print, edition of 5

"Look Out" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 16x20in, 2014, $175, archival pigment print, edition of 5

 "Human Linked" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 17x24in, 2012, $25o, archival pigment print, edition of 5

"Human Linked" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 17x24in, 2012, $25o, archival pigment print, edition of 5

 "Invasive" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 15x15in, 2015, $150, archival pigment print, edition of 5

"Invasive" by Neal Johnson, Photography, 15x15in, 2015, $150, archival pigment print, edition of 5


Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Sculpture

Vignette: Mack Dryden

You may have heard of Mack Dryden the professional comedian, actor, and public speaker, but in recent years he has embraced a new creative outlet: sculpture made from driftwood.

 "Water Dance" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood & poplar, 2017, POR

"Water Dance" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood & poplar, 2017, POR

What Dryden calls, “this new, odd passion” has its roots in his experiences as a reporter for a daily newspaper, which included illustrating his own stories. He was good enough to eventually make a living as a freelancer in Key West drawing cartoon advertising art. In 2010, he moved to Louisville after living for several years in Los Angeles.

“I’ve been handy all my adult life,” claims Dryden, “ and have made loads of furniture and other practical things. So this melding of my love of working wood and creating a pleasing composition is kind of a natural progression. As I write this, the Ohio is so high from recent rains that the banks are under ten feet of water in places that usually yield beautiful finds.  I’m counting the days until the water recedes, revealing what mother lode of masterpieces it has brought me this time.”

“The first time I walked, crawled and climbed through the tons of driftwood deposited on the banks of the park, I marveled at the treasures that were there for the taking. I found gorgeous pieces that had been sculpted by the environment where they’d grown, reduced to their essence by their journeys downriver, and burnished by the elements until they became—to my aesthetic—finished pieces of art. I saw no reason to try to improve on their inherent beauty, but rather was inspired to find ways to reveal it to the world.”

“I was encouraged when my very first attempt was juried onto our front porch by my wife Teri, an accomplished abstract artist who doesn’t curate casually.”

 "Black Water Chorale" by Mack Dryden,Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR

"Black Water Chorale" by Mack Dryden,Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR

“Curious about what might be inside some of the pieces I brought home, I ripped a few on my table saw and found spectacular colors and grains. After a couple of early experiments, I kicked myself for using tinted stains and resolved to use only clear products that would enhance the natural colors of the wood.”   

Dryden’s description of his journey of creative discovery succinctly answers the question, what does it mean when an artist labels themselves “self-taught”? He has entered a genre that is an easy target for high-minded critics, but it seems to be exactly the point for Dryden. “I happened on a photo of what I considered a hideous driftwood chandelier, it inspired me to try to make a beautiful one.”  

Dryden’s chandeliers now hang in half a dozen shops, restaurants and bars in the Louisville area, and he has had his work featured in several locations:  

The Outsider Art Fair, New York City, 2016
Art Santa Fe, NM, 2017Craft(s) Gallery, Louisville, KY
Revelry Boutique Gallery, Louisville, KYTrue North, New Albany, IN
Madison Table Works, Madison, IN
Great Flood Brewing Company, Louisville, KY

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Hometown: Pascagoula, Mississippi
Education: BA, English and Journalism,University of Mississippi (Ole Miss); MFA, Creative Writing at the Center For Writers, University of Southern Mississippi
Website: Riverborneart.com

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 "Six-Mile Island" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR 

"Six-Mile Island" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR 

 "Bayou Bash" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River Driftwood,  2017, POR

"Bayou Bash" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River Driftwood,  2017, POR

 "Jitterbug" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR

"Jitterbug" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR

 "Inside Out" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR

"Inside Out" by Mack Dryden, Ohio River driftwood, 2017, POR


Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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