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Inspirations from SCAD Museum of Art

Group Exhibition: Leather, Lace and Luster (on view July 23, 2019 - January 25, 2020 at SCAD Museum of Art)

"Black-colored clothing throughout history has come to symbolize everything from wealth, to bereavement, to teenage angst...In this installation of black evening wear from the SCAD Permanent Collection, drama and interest come from the expert choice of materials: the slickness of latex, the dimension achieved by layers of tulle, or the play of light and shadow inherent in lace or laser-cut mesh."

Exhibition Catalog, Leather, Lace, and Luster (2019) SCAD Museum of Art

If you happen to enter the SCAD Museum of Art any time from now until January 25th, 2020, you will immediately be confronted by striking mannequins clad in elegant black dresses. These figures model the phenomenon of the "little black dress" and its applications to fashion and culture, from luxury to mourning to rebellion.

Personally, the figures are meaningful to me not only for their relationship to mourning attire, but for their demonstration of various uses of black in pattern, texture, form, and figuration. The models themselves take on a more captivating presence than ordinary display mannequins simply through their monochromatic connection to the materials, and some of them appear to float in space, giving them a quasi-spectral quality.

However, it was beyond the foyer of the museum, in the exhibition entitled Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom, where I encountered the most directly inspirational artists to inform my own work. The resemblance of these artists to myself in both process and product is uncanny, and I will do well to consider them as I move forward in my graduate research and practice.

Scott Covert (b. 1954, Edison, New Jersey)

Frederick Douglass (n.d.)

Acrylic and oil on linen

“For over 34 years, artist Scott Covert has made the cemetery his studio. Working primarily with canvas and oil stick, the artist travels the world producing layered rubbings from the tombstones of cultural icons. In his work, Covert has paid homage to everyone from Harriet Tubman to Candy Darling. The artist began these works — which he calls “Monument Paintings” — in 1981, after being invited to exhibit in Cape Town, South Africa. Covert decided that for this exhibition, he would take a stance against the country’s policy of apartheid by making pilgrimages to the graves of heroic black figures. As the artists transfers these funerary inscriptions onto the canvas, Covert transports the spirit of these noble individuals from their resting place into the gallery domain.

"One of the heroic figures Covert has repeatedly paid tribute to is Frederick Douglass. In the work on view, Covert pairs Douglass’ funerary inscription with those of three disparate though politically affiliated individuals, all of whom lived throughout parts of the 19th century: Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890 - 1995), signer of the Constitution William Paterson (1745 - 1806), and Soviet Statesman Nakita Khrushchev (1894 - 1971). Intuitive in his choice of associations, there is an implacable cairn in the invitation for viewers to weave their own connective narratives between Covert’s chosen players.”

— Exhibition Label: Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom, SCAD Museum of Art

I was immediately struck by this remarkable large-scale rubbing near the entrance of the exhibition and its similarities in both concept and approach to texture rubbings I had just completed in Catholic Cemetery a few days prior. Scott Covert's philosophy, approach, and highly successful composition will stick with me as an especially meaningful reference for future explorations given this remarkable similarity.

While both of our works originate from cemetery texture rubbings, the key differences between Covert's work and my own lie in specific source material, scale, and technique: Covert seeks out large memorials of notable figures, resulting in large-scale rubbings and recognizable names. Furthermore, while my rubbings in vine charcoal rely on negative space, resulting in smoky, ephemeral, and sometimes ambiguous copies of text, Covert's oil stick rubbings are impressions on the letters and numbers themselves, leading to a clean, typographic result.

Like Covert, I have found myself drawn to historical and artistic figures specifically from the 19th century; my recent references include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mary Shelley, Caspar David Friedrich, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. However, in the execution of my work, I am most drawn to personal relationships with those I encounter in my own everyday life, from strangers to family members both living and deceased. While Covert considers the mortality and memorialization of well-known figures, carrying their memorialization from grave to gallery, I consider life and death on a personal and interpersonal scale. Even so, as it has with Covert, the cemetery has become an extension of my studio as a place to collect impressions, both physical and emotional.

TR Ericsson (b. 1972, Painesville, Ohio)

Letter (March 3, 1994)

Graphite, resin and funerary ash on muslin

“TR Ericsson has been living and working in New York for more than 20 years. Ericsson has amassed an archive over time, which includes various objects from his family and loved ones. Most of his recent work was derived from the study of this archive. In particular, he has focused on his mother’s complex story — narrated in hundreds of letters to the artist in which she reflected on gender violence, emotional abuse, mental health, and addiction. After navigating an inhospitable world, she ultimately took her own life in 2003. While working with the Frederick Douglass archives from the Walter and Linda Evans Collection, Ericsson was interested in the role of Anna Murray Douglass, Douglass’ first wife, as someone who both emotionally and economically provided a platform for Douglass. Moreover, the opaque family dynamics surrounding the death of Douglass’ younger daughter Annie, who died in Rochester, New York in 1860, inspired the artist to go back to one of the most troubling letters his mother ever sent. By being completely cut-open with his own story, the artist thinks about family bonds and the central, often erased, role of mothers whose generosity is powerful enough to enable and allow conditions for others to thrive.”

— Exhibition Label: Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom, SCAD Museum of Art

TR Ericsson is an artist who not only incorporates themes and materials associated with death, but also directly incorporates to the textual, the familial, and the collected. In terms of material, Ericsson's use of funerary ash is even more explicitly tied to the concept of ashes to ashes, fusing two forms of ephemeral remains: ash and letters. His method of screen printing is a clever alternative approach to applying these materials to canvas while remaining faithful to the original appearance of the source material.

While the work relates to the extended themes of gender violence, emotional abuse, mental health, and addiction through the voice of his mother, Ericsson's underlying motivations and strategies are remarkably akin to my own, and I hope to consider them further through continued research.

Meleko Mokgosi (b. 1981, Francistown, Botswana)

Untitled (Drawings for Frederick Douglass) (2018)

Graphite on paper

“The formats of these drawings by Meleko Mokgosi are culled from the four sides of the pedestal of the Frederick Douglass memorial in Rochester, New York. The statue, unveiled on June 9, 1989, was the first monument to an African American in the U.S., constructed in Douglass’ home city of 25 years. Mokgosi has made careful copies of the inscriptions, which include a nameplate and three quotes from Douglass’ speeches. Upon these illustrations, Mokgosi has written his own annotations, transcriptions, and commentary. The artist’s additions question fundamental values of the U.S., like liberty and individualism, and call attention to the legacy of slavery and racist government policies like the Dred Scott decision.”

— Exhibition Label: Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom, SCAD Museum of Art

A third artist featured in this exhibition with whom I discovered meaningful kinship is Meleko Mokgosi, who also draws from memorials as source material and considers drawing as a format for translating these sources. Mokgosi re-considers memorials as documents, incorporating note-taking into his compositions. In this way, he incorporates a personal response to the words and sites he encounters, with yet another distinct presentation technique. Rather than rubbings or screen prints, these images are illustrations, carefully rendered by hand and eye rather than a process of transfer.

Each of these artists present valuable accomplishments that I greatly admire, and their work will challenge me to consider the evolution of my own position in artistic discourse. Just as cemeteries have become extensions of my studio, museum visits will always serve as exhilarating extensions of my research process.

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