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Jacks and Williams at HAM.

JACKS' OBAMA: Collage treatment on folded paper.
  • JACKS' OBAMA: Collage treatment on folded paper.

Ariston Jacks and Susan Williams are African-American artists who have in common substantial talent. Both have stories to tell as well, so HAM has paired them up for an exhibit, “The Visual Narrative,” that will be up through May 10.

Jacks is a painter, and his work is heavy on symbolism, commenting on African-American identity. He isn't afraid to step away from usual forms, techniques and surfaces, an approach that will serve him well as long as it is not forced. “Visual Narrative” features, for example, his paintings on paper that have been folded like the memorial ribbon now used in various causes — pink for breast cancer, red for aids. Jacks has put the face of Barack Obama in the middle of one ribbon, set against a mosaic of stars, black faces, a dollar bill, portraits of our greater presidents. He's used a tall thin shadowbox to frame his painting of a man with a hoe. A thought balloon shows the man to be thinking about cotton, or what cotton stands for in his world. The lens of his eyeglasses are painted with a thick, pale polymer that obscures, as glass would, the man's eyes. He has a halo around his head — a motif that Jacks uses in his portrayal of generations past. Three long paintings — separate but a triptych — combine symbols of American capitalism and African tradition, and Jacks juxtaposes with great effect a pale wash over the hovering symbols against the vivid color of the African-American subjects. His painting “Ill Equipped” shows a black man in shirt and jeans holding a spear.

Williams is a sculptor, and her narratives are told, more often than not, in the tilt of a head, the look in the eye and the movement of an arm. Her “Medicine Man” — for some reason displayed on a pedestal so low you have to get down on the floor to get a good look at it — is a graceful, beautifully sculpted figure of a man moving through the air, dreads flying, body twisting, holding on to some sort of ribbons or sticks. Her female heads are, in some instances, too manikin-pretty but the multi-bunned “Her Majesty” is strong. Her “Smiley Girl,” the head of a pouting child, is wonderfully textured. I'd like to see Williams' work on a larger scale. It would cost a bundle, no doubt, but the impact would be terrific.

 

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