Forging forward & looking back
Emerging artists bring a fresh perspective to the Museum of the NCAAA
Celina Colby | 10/19/2017, 6 a.m.
The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury features exhibits by artists Nygel Jones and Jason E. Smith through Jan. 7, 2018. The emerging artists represent a new wave of black talent that presents contemporary commentary rooted in history and tradition.
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“Origins,” by Rhode Island based artist Smith, presents an expansive display of acrylic paintings inspired by mythology. Smith created his images by painting creatures pointillist-style on Dura Lar, a transparent surface associated with animation. In his installation, images are mounted above the background so they appear to be floating in the middle of the frame.
In addition to the creation myths that so captivate the artist, Smith’s exhibit includes a series called “The Lost Races,” which, he says, “questions the accepted timeline of history for the Americas, as well as the races that inhabited it.” Here he draws a distinct difference between ancient cultures that imagined creation myths to explain their existence, and American history, which was whitewashed for convenience.
Smith’s work is intimate and dynamic. Each piece requires you to stand close to it and engage directly with the subject matter. Some have textual explanations of the creation myths, others beg viewers to invent their own.
While Smith looks backward, Jones looks forward to the future of industrial design and urban environments in “Debut & Departing.” Jones’ oil-on-canvas paintings present imagined landscapes with a science fiction twist. “Visually, my work embraces ideas and aesthetic interests similar to those of early 20th-century Futurism,” he says. “Like these productions, my focus is on scale, proportions and perspective.”
As a frequent user of public transportation, Jones invites viewers to imagine seeing his landscapes from the window of a bus or train. The wood frames that he hand-crafts for each painting mimic the frame of a window. The frames, a signature of Jones’ work, are cut in sharp, geometric angles and shapes to accommodate the unconventional canvases.
A Roxbury native, Jones’ meditations also are a commentary on gentrification. He has seen Boston’s landscape change dramatically, leaving historical buildings positioned next to shiny new high-rises. His paintings beg the question, Where will we end up if this continues? Interestingly, there are no people in Jones’ landscapes. The more buildings that go up, the less room there is for the people who inhabit them.
“Origins” and “Debut & Departing,” pump fresh blood into the Museum of the NCAAA. Though rooted in ancient themes and traditional practices, Jones and Smith look to the future of art, and of the city.