For his exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, Titus Kaphar presents a painting show titled “Drawing the Blinds,” along with an extension of his 2011 Jerome Project titled “Asphalt and Chalk.” The former maintain’s Kaphar’s practice of bringing history into the present, and traditional artwork into the contemporary conversation.
Adopting imagery from different periods in the canon of art history, Titus subverts history by revealing the racial undertones that underly the history of similar works. With the recent protests in Ferguson and New York, the pieces being shown in two simultaneous exhibitions of Kaphar’s work at the Jack Shainman Gallery, resonate with a quality that seems to echo the sentiments of those raising their voices against a continued legacy of discrimination in our modern age.
Error of Repetition (Where are You?), 2011, Oil on canvas mounted on sintra, 85 1/2 x 74 3/4 x 2 1/2 inches
Titus Kaphar appropriates the visual language of American and European history painting and in doing so, takes the Eurocentric view of world history to task while illuminating injustice. The New York-based artist currently has two solo shows on view at Jack Shainman Gallery’s separate locations in Manhattan. His dual exhibition touches upon the human rights abuses of the colonial era as well as the current fight for racial equality in the US. Haunting yet visually alluring, Kaphar’s work tells stories of the African diaspora through imagery with a visceral, emotional impact.
Kaphar says of his work: “I’ve always been fascinated by history: art history, American history, world history, individual history – how history is written, recorded, distorted, exploited, reimagined, and understood.
Jaavon and the Unknown Gentleman, 2011. Titus Kaphar. Gentleman with Negro Attendant, 1785-88. Ralph Earl
Jaavon and the Unknown Gentleman was commissioned by the New Britain Museum of American Art as a contemporary commentary on the Colonial-era work Gentleman with Negro Attendant, by Ralph Earl. The resulting painting is the first in a new series that focuses on identity. Kaphar explains:
“Much of black history recorded in Western art is summarized visually by three roles: enslaved, in servitude, or impoverished. But beyond this limited social order lies a people of dignity and strength, whose survival is nothing less than miraculous. Within the context of 19th century paintings, most black characters play, at best, secondary roles int he composition. The implication of hierarchy through compositional positioning (that is, figures in the composition) is a fundamental theme explored in this piece.
In many paintings from this period the prototypical image of a black person was as a slave or servant, just outside of illuminated areas of importance. The characters in the shadows were there to add balance to the overall composition and emphasize, or accentuate, the statue of the "important” character being painted.
In the original painting Gentleman with Negro the black child is stripped of all identity. He has no name, grotesquely articulated features, and is bereft of human dignity. In Jaavon and the Unknown Gentleman, the black figure is replaced with a living and particular child – my young neighbor.“
“Through the manipulation of seemingly classical and canonical imagery, Titus Kaphar introduces us to an alternate history that runs concurrent to the dominate narrative. Truths emerge to reveal the fiction and revisionism inherent in history painting and the visual representation of a moment or memory. Kaphar cuts, slashes, erases, layers and peels back the surface of his paintings. Each method is specific to the subject and meant to ignite and recharge the image, often that of the underrepresented body.”
Titus Kaphar was born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He currently lives and works between New York and Connecticut. His artworks interact with the history of art by appropriating its styles and mediums.
I hit up the Titus Kaphar showing of “Asphalt and Chalk’ at Jack Sheiman Gallery with the homie elliottbrownjr. He took all of these awesome photos of some of the pieces. Writing a piece on the works and the experience. If it doesn’t get published, I’ll post it on here.
Here’s an excerpt from my draft:
The Unfit Description collection featured penciled faces etched on white parchment. Each sketch is places on top of a number of other sketches drawn on translucent sheet. Every face is visible. One feature, be it beard or lazy eye, is distinguishable and drawn on a separate sheet, overlapping the others. This work acts as a sort of social commentary, representative of how police forces often time profile black men leading to their wrongful conviction and sometimes their untimely death. The Jerome Project is similar to Unfit Description. The layered illustrations are presented, this time in chalk. The faces are drawn similarly, but not the same. Each piece seems to feature men of different age groups, some younger, others older. One of the faces in the younger portrait is noticably Mike Brown (youth killed unlawfully by police in Ferguson , Missouri). The portrayal of Mike Brown and the use of chalk implies the idea that all of the men depicted may have been killed by police. The eyes on each piece are haunting in that they don’t perfectly line up, but all share a single glare. While the works have similar approaches, they tell seperate stories, delivering different messages. Unfit Description tells the viewer” it can be anybody” while The Jerome Project tells the viewer “it is everyone”.