Sprawling Whitfield Lovell show opens Feb. 15 at Boca Raton museum
BOCA RATON, Fla. – The Boca Raton Museum of Art hosts Whitfield Lovell: Passages, opening on February 15 and continuing through May 21. This is the largest exhibition ever presented of Lovell’s work that focuses on lost African American history, and raises universal questions about America’s collective heritage.
Organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) in collaboration with the artist, the exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Terra Foundation for American Art, and encompasses the entire first floor galleries of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which comprise more than 7,500 square feet.
This exhibit represents the first time these multi-sensory installations by Lovell will be presented together in a museum-wide show of this monumental size and scope. “I see the so-called ‘anonymous’ people in these vintage photographs as being stand-ins for the ancestors I will never know,” said Whitfield Lovell, adding, “I see history as being very much alive. One day, 100 years from now, people will be talking about us as history. The way I think about time is very different – I don’t think it really was very long ago that these things happened, it wasn’t that long ago that my grandmother’s grandmother was a slave. The ancient Native American principles say it takes seven generations to overcome a tragedy, so in this context of generations we can begin to grasp why we are at this point we are living in now.”
Lovell is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Genius Grant, and is recognized as one of the world’s leading artistic interpreters of lost African American history. He is celebrated for his exquisite portraits, drawn with Conte crayons, from historic photos he finds of anonymous individuals, which the artist combines with his intuitive assemblage of time-worn objects to raise universal questions about memory, American life, and reclaiming lost history that had been erased.
The works in this exhibition are anchored by images of everyday African Americans, from the 1860s to the 1950s (between the Emancipation Proclamation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement), a period of time the artist feels has been overlooked by the art world.
Each realistic portrait is inspired by the antique photographs he finds in flea markets, discarded family albums, mug shots and archives. Lovell renders each portrait directly onto old wooden boards with knots, holes, nails, traces of paint and other signs of age.
The meticulously physical back-and-forth process of hand-drawing is how the artist honors the person’s memory and their existence: he applies the charcoal, rubs it with his fingers to get the right tone, and then erases some to create the highlights. “Drawing by hand is always a particular pleasure for me,” said Lovell. “Hand-drawing from the vintage photograph provokes the viewer to look more closely at the subject matter and to contemplate it more. The important thing is to make the art good, so that 100 years from now people would want to look at this work. As an artist, you have to find joy in the act of creating.”
Visit the website for the Boca Raton Museum of Art and see its dedicated page for Whitfield Lovell: Passages.