Tyrone Geter: BLACK!

701 Center for Contemporary Art presents a solo exhibition by Tyrone Geter opening with an artist reception, Thursday, July 9, 7-9 pm. Reception admission is free for members and a $5 donation is suggested for non-members. Tyrone Geter: BLACK! is curated by Barry Gaither, director and curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) in Boston. Aside from his duties at the Museum of the NCAAA, Gaither is a special consultant at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts MFA, where he has served as curator for eight exhibitions. Gaither has served on many prominent committees and commissions in the museum field and has published and lectured widely.

BLACK! presents recent works by Ohio-born Tyrone Geter who, after extensive travel, work and study in Africa, has made South Carolina his home. “Combining masterful draftsmanship with assemblage and installation elements, Geter has produced a bold body of work that offers powerful perspectives on the black American experiences one hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War and the passing of the 13th Amendment to the US constitution,” according to Gaither. “Using a visceral, figurative approach into which mixed media elements have been freely woven, Geter’s art holds us captive to its aggressive power and intriguing formal resolutions.”

Geter’s art descends from the most important 20th century development in African American visual culture—the forging of a black figurative tradition. Rejecting caricature and stereotypic distortions of black physiognomy, artists early in the last century—Meta Warrick Fuller, Hale Woodruff, Augusta Savage, Lois Mailou Jones and Archibald Motley and others—undertook the project of pioneering sympathetic portrayal of African Americans in the visual arts. A robust figurative production emerged that was affirmed and broadened by Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, Herman “Kofi” Bailey, and John Wilson. By the third quarter of the century, black representation had been effectively humanized. Within Geter’s own generation, muscular figurative expression emerged with especially midwestern artists such as Calvin Jones, Jon Lockhard, and Pheoris West. Paul Goodnight and Barkley Hendricks, both working on the East Coast, helped in rounding out the roster of notable figurative exponents.

The exhibition was selected from four series by Geter: 1) Ain’t I a woman, 2) Living in the light of Hell’s shadow; 3) Black works and 4) New works. All have in common several traits that strongly distinguish Geter’s oeuvre. First, Geter fundamentally embraces figuration and has rooted his production within that tradition. Second, Geter is not frightened of emotionality, but instead cultivates empathy and stirs passions with the drama of his presentations. He courts humor, and a spirituality reminiscent of “Soul Music” and jazz of the era. Third, he welcomes formal challenges—such as his use of torn paper strips—that bespeak appreciation for underlying elements of abstraction that tease and extend the visual richness of his subjects. And lastly, Geter’s themes are drawn from his own life and travels as a black American male living through a tumultuous period in the United States and Africa. In his art, he explores perspectives derived from black experiences with race, class, and colonialism. “Despite his attraction to figuration, he has avoided common traps that ensnare such artists. His work avoids empty rhetorical gestures and maudlin excesses as it rises above mere rendering,” Gaither observes of Geter’s body of work.

Though not political, Geter’s work comments critically on the myriad ways that racism has distorted black lives. Stinging observations are directed inter-group as well as intra-group. For example, as strongly as he indicts white American society for its mistreatment of blacks since emancipation (“Hand’s up”), he equally condemns intra-racial disparagement and negativity in (“Calling me a bitch won’t make you a man”). His critical viewpoints and the ways in which he has framed them reach back to forebears such as Sojourner Truth (“Ain’t I a woman Series”) and Paul Laurence Dunbar (“The Masks”) both known for their piquant observations couched in colorful layman’s language. Gaither observes, “Simultaneously, Geter responds to contemporary voices such as Toni Morrison and Cornel West. And I would add Hafizah Geter, his daughter, whose analytic commentaries are growing in salience. Inspired by these voices and stirred to find his own forceful visual expression, Geter puts before us compositions that indisputably speak of black realities from black perspectives, while also profoundly American. Through pathos, humor and acidic commentary, Geter’s art pioneers a new visual and literary vocabulary for reckoning with America’s intractable problems of racial justice, social acceptance, and collective healing. BLACK! Offers us a lot to see, and to think about.”

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