Recently I went to see the art exhibit Preach! New Works by Jeffrey Kent and want to communicate, in my style, some of what I saw and felt.
An unusual chair balanced on piles of books was the first thing I saw as I entered the building. Looking at this chair, I felt the longing to read in a restful setting, but although balanced on the books, I questioned whether the life of the person(s) using the chair was balanced. Under the books, covered with a rug, were magazines, one a Playboy magazine. Were they hidden because they were embarrassing or could reveal too much?
Nearby was a water fountain. I remember using these types of fountains and reading that in the south blacks could not use the same fountains as whites. This fountain’s gold color is indicative of its almost religious symbolism in the segregated world.
Moving to the main exhibit upstairs, I noticed that most of the characters in his paintings are blindfolded, representing those who can’t or won’t see what is around them. Kent uses ugly images in his paintings to underscore our country’s ugly history of racism. He links the struggle of black Americans to that of marriage equality. Some paintings include historical photos or drawings: a slave ship, an auction, demonstrations against discrimination, women’s suffrage, proposition 8 controversy.
It did help to have an artistic family member with me, my nephew Tyler Farinholt, to explain some of the works. Confused when I saw the word “dementia” spelled backwards, I understood the painting better when told that Kent was dyslexic. He often uses backwards text in his paintings, often in bubbles. Forwards or backwards, the words and paintings communicate.
My favorites included two chairs representing male and female, husband and wife or master and slave. They may have been important representations of society, but now they were torn and outdated. A suspended broom represents the hurdle some people face (or faced) in having their unions recognized.
I would have understood the paintings much better if I had read the exhibit booklet instead of spending so much time, trying to discover the meanings myself. However, that method did give me a more personal interpretation of the paintings, often close to the written material. The booklet explained little details that I missed at the time.
Besides our creative instincts, writers and visual artists share the desire to communicate; to share our experiences, thoughts and dreams with others and Kent definitely communicates through his art.
It was a pleasure to meet Kent, who also is the owner of Sub-Basement Artist Studios in Baltimore. If you have an opportunity to see this exhibit, please do. There is so much more to see than I mentioned. It gives you plenty to enjoy and to think about.
The exhibit, open through March 31. Gallery hours are 10 am to 4 pm Mon through Fri and 12 pm to 4 pm Sat and Sun. is at the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum. You can learn more about the exhibit, organized by the Exhibition Development Seminar of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), at http://www.preachjeffreykent.com/.