By Yolande Brener
On Sunday, November 18th, the Studio Museum in Harlem held an Open Studio to welcome their new artists in residence, Steffani Jemison, Jennifer Packer and Cullen Washington Jr.
These three were chosen out of hundreds of artists. Their light-filled studios are already crammed with works in progress.
Packer’s oil on canvas paintings are often of a single figure in a room, and sometimes of furniture, showing an absence in the room. She speaks of the figures in her paintings as if they have a life of their own.
“In this figure, the legs appear to be running but the torso is still. It’s like a death to life transformation,” or “In this one, I made him like a giant” crushed into a tiny canvas.
Packer’s paintings range from palm-size to larger than a person, in muted mustards, purples and turquoise. She also has a series of drawings focused on a ghostly couple with their intertwined hands emphasized, as if the togetherness is the most vibrant part of them.
At the entrance of Steffani Jemison’s workspace is a poster-sized ink jet on acetate print that says, “When God closes a door, he opens.” The photograph is taken from a shrine made for a teenager who was accidentally killed during urban violence in Chicago. Steffani likes to take one image and see how many variations she can come up with. She took a passage from the youth’s notebook and reproduced it partly blurred, half obliterated and mostly covered with television listings. The poem, Affirmations for Living begins each line, saying “If I Could.”
Jemison also has a series of prints taken from photographs of a crate.
“I like to use what is available to me,” she said. “And I was using that crate for storage. On acetate the ink retains a three dimensionality and that became a part of the image. I also want to explore the boundaries between painting and film.”
Jemison has a video piece currently on display and will perform in the upcoming Fore presentations.
Each of Cullen Washington Jr’s works spans half a wall. He works on unprimed canvas, with acrylic, tape, sweaters and anything else that catches his eye. The works are mainly monochromatic with a few touches of blue and are inspired by anything from debris to architecture.
Washington showed me a few inspirational photographs on his iPhone. One image of a building wrapped in net, with a blue band of plastic, seems to be the root of his current works.
“I like to see this masculine architecture, wrapped up in fabric,” he said. “It’s like the juxtaposition of the masculine with the feminine.”
Washington uses unprimed canvas because “I’m a rebel.” And he uses tape because “in Louisiana that’s what we use to stick things together.”
All three artists have work in the current Fore exhibition at the Studio Museum. I look forward to seeing what new ideas they come up with over the coming year.
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