Artist Whitfield Lovell is internationally renowned for his thought-provoking portraits and signature tableaux. In this exhibition, Lovell utilizes sculpture, video, drawing, sound, and music to create an environment that fully engages our senses and emotions. His art pays tribute to the lives of anonymous African Americans and is universal in its exploration of passage, memory, and the search for freedom.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibit Whitfield Lovell will participate in a conversation with Telfair Director and CEO Lisa Grove on August 14, 2014 at 6 pm in the Jepson Center’s Neises Auditorium. Lovell will discuss “Deep River,” his artistic practice, and his approach to working with historical subject matter. The event is free and open to the public and includes a reception following the conversation.
Born in the Bronx, New York in 1959, Lovell was interested in art from a young age. He attended schools for music and the arts. Lovell’s parents realized how passionate he was about art. He entered a graduate program in Venice for 2 months; an art tour for 2 months and studied in Spain as a graduation present. While studying painting and sculpture in Spain, he experienced an epiphany during a visit to El Museo del Prado in Madrid. Lovell stated, “l knew l would go into some form of art, but I wasn’t sure which …. But while I was standing in front a Velazquez painting, l had an amazing spiritual experience. The painter had communicated with me through centuries and cultures, and l suddenly understood the role of the artist, l ran from room to room. Goya, El Greco, Reubens, and Picasso all began to speak out to me, Whatever they were doing in those rooms was what l wanted to do with my life.”
The large scale of the current exhibition allows the viewer to experience three distinct and compelling aspects of the artist’s work, including examples of Lovell’s trademark tableaux, work from his Kin series, and the extraordinary Deep River installation. The tableaux are drawn onto the wood with charcoal .
Lovell started out making life size drawings in old houses. His first installation began in Houston, TX He was affiliated with a not for profit organization that acquired shotgun houses. Half of the homes were used by single mothers and others dedicated to artist exhibitions.
The artist would respond to the architecture structure of the homes and create wall drawings. He juxtaposes these drawings with everyday found objects including clocks, irons, frying pans, and bed frames to complete the room and furnish it with antiques. This inspired Lovell to use other ways of combining his drawings with objects. Tableaux such as Pago Pago and Autour du Monde feature uniformed soldiers, referencing the service of African Americans through two world wars for a country that still did not acknowledge their civil or human rights. Billie Holiday’s rendition of the song, “l Cover the Waterfront,” plays softly from Pago Pago. A collection of globes is placed in front of Autour du Monde, invoking both the adventure of travel and the dangers for soldiers of fighting abroad.
The multi-media Deep River installation converts a 2,500-square-foot gallery into a unique environment, which the viewer enters and experiences as a personal journey.
During my telephone interview with Lovell, he talked about his inspiration for Deep River. By the end of the Civil War, about 100 Union camps around the country offered asylum and a safe haven for escaped slaves. Camp Contrabands was located in Chattanooga in the area that became known as Hill City, Chattanooga’s first black neighborhood in what is now North Chattanooga. Lovell could visualize the slaves crossing the Tennessee River to get to island. “I thought of the song Deep River with an abience reference to crossing the river. I filmed the river and put a projection with the waves and the sunlight up on the wall and made all of the huge discs. I drew life-size people on the discs and then centered mound of dirt to represent the island” said Lovell.
Lovell’s work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions at national venues such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Whitfield Lovell: Deep River was organized by the Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee.