Onyx Fine Arts’ “Truth B Told” gathers work by nearly 50 artists of African descent, encompassing painting, photography, sculpture and other media, reflecting the personal and the political. It’s at King Street Station in Seattle through Feb. 18.
Open-call exhibitions are naturally a mixed bag – but they also open doors to fine talents that might not otherwise see the light of day.
That’s the case with Onyx Fine Arts’ “Truth B Told.” It gathers work by nearly 50 artists of African descent, encompassing painting, photography, sculpture and other media. Most of the contributors are from the Pacific Northwest. The show has its political side. It also strikes more personal notes.
Two artists included in it, Marita Dingus and Barbara Earl Thomas, are Seattle art-scene celebrities. The rest are largely unknown. Some have never shown their work publicly before.
Onyx Fine Arts 12th Annual Exhibit: ‘Truth B Told’
3 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays, noon- 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Feb. 18, with special Art Walk hours, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Feb. 2. King Street Station, third floor, 303 S. Jackson St., Seattle; free (206-722-0489 or onyxarts.org).
So – we’re talking surprises.
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On the political front, Robert L. Horton is especially eye-catching. Working mostly in acrylics, he combines striking composition with curious stylizations of the human figure. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” shows an African-American soldier on a Revolutionary War battlefield, fighting on the British side. The energy of the painting – crouching soldier, waving Union Jack, charging Redcoat in the background – jumps out at you. The same happens in Horton’s “We the People,” in which he paints a dynamic trio of black protestors against a photo-collage of marching crowds.
Jay Taylor’s “Unreconciled” is more bitterly pointed. It’s a watercolor depiction of a road paved with the Stars and Stripes, with lynched figures hanging from the trees along its shoulder. A small plaque recounting Jim Crow-era horrors accompanies it. Taylor’s “digital artography” prints, computer-manipulated collages of found images, are impressive too – especially “Until We Get There,” a Cinemascope-wide depiction of a Black Lives Matter protest.
Jasmine Brown’s gorgeous egg temperas on wood, some with gold-leaf trim, recall Russian icons as they commemorate people of color – Emmett Till, Seattle’s John T. Williams and three others – who met violent deaths, often under racially charged circumstances.
Other works are exuberant statements of identity. Photographer Zorn B. Taylor’s “Declaration II,” a vertical triptych of an elegant young black man gesturing toward something outside the frame, has a serenity that’s beguiling. Carletta Carrington Wilson’s room-sized installation, “letter to a laundress,” pays homage to humble work “done well,” with vintage photographs hung from clotheslines.
Some of the best works – photographer Rahel Adamu’s metal prints of floral studies, Earline Alston’s paintings of dynamic leafy/floral landscapes, Bonnie Harper’s glossy resin-and-acrylic variations on prehistoric cave paintings – carry no overt activist message. Instead, close observation of the natural world and subtle self-expression meet in them. Alston’s windblown trees, created from chalk, pastel, oil pastel, watercolor and acrylic, tap into states of mind that their titles (“In Her Zone,” “Serenity”) suggest.
Dingus’ striking installation “Gathering the Spirits,” built from found metallic materials, is similarly more concerned with ghostly presence than spelled-out social critique. While the whole show is dominated by figurative art, there are a few ventures into abstraction – notably Kwaku Osei’s “Jungle Juice,” a Klee-like mixed-media extravanganza.
For history buffs, there’s a special attraction: a compilation of videos chronicling the story of the Pullman Porters, employees of George Pullman’s “hotel on wheels” who, by forming the first black labor union, laid the groundwork for both the African-American middle class and the civil rights movement.