Can You Paint FAITH?

Moe Brooker does! I’ve interviewed him, and I believe him. I’ve titled my talk, “To the Glory of God (TTGG): Moe Brooker’s Painted Faith” at the upcoming symposium, Faith, Identity, and History: Representations of Christianity in Modern and Contemporary African American Art,” sponsored by the Association for Scholars of Christianity in Art History (ASCHA). Here’s why…

Throughout his more than four-decade-long career in the arts, Philadelphia native Moe Brooker, has created a distinctive artistic language that calls out to viewers to not only look at his works as arrangements of patterns, colors, and shapes on canvas or paper, but also as investigations into the human spirit. His paintings are as multi-layered and complex as the people who have the opportunity to encounter them. Jazz music and his spiritual grounding, along with his general experiences as an African-American artist have contributed to the energetic, abstract mixed-media paintings. The painting process as a daily devotion for him, he asserts, is “almost like a prayer…and what passes through me is not of my own invention. It comes from the higher Being…It’s not church. This is my private worship.” You’ll have to come to the symposium to hear more (including a recorded duet between him and his wife, Cheryl). The Alumni Sales Gallery at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will also feature Moe’s work. He’s an inspiration for his students at Moore College of Art & Design. See his poignant and engaging 2010 convocation at Moore (click here). Wouldn’t you love to be his student?!

The Symposium: On Friday, March 23 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art & Saturday, March 24, scholars will explain–and challenge–our understanding of how African American artists painted, sculpted, photographed, and plain ‘ol lived their faith through the expression of visual arts from the turn of the 20th century to the present. The symposium will take place in conjunction with the enthralling exhibition, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spiritcurated by my University of Delaware grad colleague, Anna O. Marley. Early registration for the symposium ends March 14! The exhibition closes April 15. You don’t want to miss this many Tanners in one room! The New York Times agrees. Read the review of the show.

For more on what I’m art historicizing about this spring, see What’s Next…

Art History Symposium: History, Identity and Faith – March 24-25, 2012

So proud to announce the final schedule for the Association for Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) Symposium:

History, Identity and Faith: Representations of Christianity in Modern and Contemporary African American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24, 2012. 

The symposium coincides with the exhibition, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit at PAFA, curated by my UD colleague, Anna Marley. The show opens on January 28, 2012! Our keynote speaker will be Leslie King-Hammond. She will give a talk at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled: “From Ashe to Amen: Biblical Imagery and the African American Experience.” Leslie is a renown artist and scholar of African American Art who serves as the Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute of Art.

I am a co-chair, but I will also give a paper at the symposium on Philadelphia-based artist, Moe Brooker: “To The Glory of God (TTGF): Moe Brooker’s Painted Faith.” I will highlight his deep commitment to his home life, faith, and the importance of music. Moe will have a small show up at PAFA, “Moe Brooker: The Evidence of Things Not Seen” from Feb. 8-April 15, 2012

Please see the brochure below or the ASCHA website for details:

ASCHA Symposium PHL2012

Please Circulate

Q: What is COOL? A: Barkley Hendricks

It’s 2012. I’m back from a long break. The joys of motherhood demanded time spent at home over the holidays with two little ones who really could care less that I want to have some physical and mental space to blog. Pa-lease. But, I’m back. With four talks lined up on four different artists (see what’s next), I’ve got a lot of ideas that need to take shape soon. And, as promised, I’ll be working on an article about me and my mommy phd friends (I’ll try to provide some teasers on that).

So, I’m continuing to work on funk rocker Betty Davis. Along with her gritty sounds and no-nonsense sex appeal, she provides an almost surreal sense of coolness that is undeniable. It got me thinking about how I’ve thought about visual representations of cool in the past. Below is an excerpt from a study I conducted for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and their African American collections. Barkely Hendricks, a Professor of Art at Connecticut College, has been defining cool for the last four decades. His retrospective The Birth of the Cool organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University practically canonized his stake on cool. Here’s my take on the PMA’s Miss T by Hendricks from my unpublished paper, “Cooling Black Skin: Selected Portraits in the African American Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”


According to African art scholar Robert Farris Thompson, “An aesthetic of cool,” signifies “the sense of a deeply and complexly motivated, consciously artistic, interweaving of elements serious and pleasurable, or of responsibility and of play.”[1] For example, in observing Barkley Hendricks’ portrait Miss T (1969), one easily gets a sense of what is “cool” about her. Her introspective glance downward from behind her gold-rimmed glasses while standing casually in her black pantsuit with shiny embellishments around her waist exudes a coolness about her that is unrehearsed and smooth. Miss T is presented without the context of her surroundings of, perhaps, a Philadelphia streetscape. She is calm. She is confident. She is at peace before the onlookers’ glare, caught up in her own thoughts of problems or dreams. Hendricks’ placement of the figure before a bare, vacant background, allows Miss T to be absorbed into the canvas with just her very presence. Hendricks provides her with a certain amount of power and agency, and perhaps this self-possession is the origin of her coolness.

[1] Robert Farris Thompson, “An Aesthetic of the Cool,” African Arts, v. 7, no. 1 (Autumn, 1973), p. 41.

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