Framed Stories: The Art of Carmen Cartiness Johnson and Jerome Wright

December 17, 2010 - April 11, 2011


The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Contemporary Artists Program is pleased to present the Framed Stories of Carmen Johnson, currently living in Antonio, Texas and Jerome Wright, currently living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The artists were paired together in this two-person exhibition because they have several artistic similarities: they are largely self-trained, they enjoy creating narrative art, and they demonstrate postmodern sensibilities. Each artist's style is clearly different, but every work of art draws in the observer, forcing him or her to think about what the artist may be trying to relay.

Johnson began painting in 1985 for reasons of nostalgia. She wanted to capture memories of her childhood—summers spent with her grandparents in Arkansas. By 1992, painting had evolved into a hobby, and in 1998 art became a serious endeavor. Johnson, found her oeuvre creating genre paintings depicting daily life among African Americans. Using acrylic as her medium, she fills her canvases with people gathered for family, religious and other events. In the colorful work titled "Everywhere, But," Johnson presents a self-portrait. Intriguingly, every detail is included accept for her facial features. This unique style adds an element of interactivity to Johnson's compositions. Viewers are drawn into the painting, and when they figure out the story, they often can fill in the blank faces with familiar personalities, such as their own friends and family, who resemble the images.

Carmen Cartiness Johnson describes her art and herself as follows:

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"I create art because I enjoy it, and I think it should be fun. Art doesn't always have to deliver a message, and a work should not require the viewer to have an academic degree to understand it. However, I do think art should break boundaries and challenge rules. I like painting the human figure and storytelling. Therefore, I paint things I see in the world, images that speak to the challenges and joys humans face daily. I like off beat subject matter. I draw from my past experiences, such as how and where I grew up. I find inspiration from places during my daily travels, from a phrase in a song, a poem, proverb, novel, or movie. My goal, however, is always to present the viewer with situations they can relate to. Of course, the challenge is getting the image from my mind to the canvas. I work primarily with acrylic paint because it's odorless and clean up is easy."

For Wright, visual art is an extension of his multiple artistic competencies. In addition to painting, he is an accomplished musician and dancer. A prolific artist, he works in oil pastels on panels or canvas. Wright uses bright colors in broad strokes to create stunning works of art drawn from his rich life experiences and deep spirituality. He then layers on glazes, which adds to the texture of each work. Unafraid of pigment and subjects created with traditional African features, Wright surprises the viewer by changing the images of western iconography. A coal-black Jesus, dressed in a bright red robe is featured in his image titled "The Agony of Christ," and black prima ballerinas in tutus, confidently leaping and twirling in the foreground rather than in the chorus.

Jerome Wright describes himself and his work as follows:
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"My work reflects the essences and recollections of themes that have left a profound effect on my total being and inner vision. I lie somewhere between the sacred and the profane.

While I consider myself somewhat of an expressionist, my subjects will have a formal bearing. Memories of the South, inner-city living, five years of Brazilian culture, music, dance and spirituality, combined with stolen moments comprise my repertoire. Within this mix, universal concepts emerge bringing forth the common thread of all mankind from my vision to universal recognition. My mentors were the late African American painter Texiera Nash and the late collector of African American Art Thurlow Tibbs."

 

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