Eighteen working artist teach at Howard University. All are represented in the Seventh Annual Faculty Exhibition (on view through April 5 in the art department's gallery). Last year's show was good. This one is better. Swinging, colorful, coherent, it is a show that should be seen.
The enthusiastic energy, much of it non-Western, that courses through these pictures, carvings and sculptures, reminds us once again there is something cooking at Howard's College of Fine Arts.
The artists of the Howard School, most of them at least, share a sense of audience and an attitude to art-making that only rarely penetrates this city's downtown galleries. Describing it is difficult, but sensing it is easy.
Spin the dial of your radio, and you can tell at once if te music you hear is white music or black. Perhaps it is the tempo, the uses of the melody, the quality of voice. Something of the sort, some accessible reflection of the black experience, is apparent in this art.
The artists represented use differing materials, clay, ink, beads, fabric, cowrie shells and brass. Ed Love welds steel, Alfred J. Smith carves wood, Skunder Boghassian paints on cloth made from bark. There is a flare, a brightness, in the colors that James Phillips uses; E.H. Sorrells-Adewale prefers to work with desert tones, with sun-bleached soft pastels.
The artists of the Howard School do not mimic one another. Sylvia Snowden scribbles furtiously as if exorcising monsters. Her hugh, ferocious drawings conjure beaks and bellies. The works of Winston Kennedy, with their rolling rhythms and their subtle washes, are more pensive than they are fierce.
Group shows tend to rush off in disparate directions, but this one is together. The 70 objects shown, both the good and bad, sing to one another. Like jamming jazz musicians working the same melody, the artists of the Howard School run changes on the same art images and chords.
They improvise on Africa, on her patterns and her rhythms, on both the sandy Africa of Egypt and that of the black south. Like the carvers of that continent, they fill their art with spirits. Ed Love finds his metal in the city, not the woods, but his sculpture seems inhabited. Snowden shows us devils. Malkia's abstract expressionist canvases are not pure abstractions: faces clearly seen here and there emerge from her dripped and textured paint. Alfred J. Smith's "Acoustical Sculpture" stands on wooden hooves. Mask faces that have open mouths and cowrie shells for eyes peek from the small assembleages of E.H. Sorrells-Adewale.
The longer one looks, the more these works seem unified, cross-referenced, interwoven. Phillips is a kind of hard-edge color painter, but his geometries are musical and his patterns are related to those that Al Smith carves. Smith, hardworking and Productive, is both a carver and a painter. His strength is not in portraiture, his faces seem a bit standardized, cartooned, but his colors and his rhythms save his complex pictures, pictures that refex at once to equatorial sunlight, to Africa, the islands, and to the Victorian rowhouses one sees her on the street.
The Howard exhibition had been so well installed that the stronger works do not wipe out the weaker things displayed. The objects here cooperate. Star Bullock, an artist represented here, is the new director of Howard's art department. There are artists on her staff who have academic styles, Albert J. Carter, for example, One, Chi Chong Lee-Lau, does oriental landscapes of no great distinction, and Lila Asher's admirable pictures have a quiet Western mood, but there is no competition. The Howard artists seem to care for teaching and each other.
The Miya Gallery, 720 11th St. NW, is showing recent pitctures by Peter Michael DuFore of Newark, N.J. His exhibition, with its references to Africa, Western painting, jazz, reminds us that the Howard artists are working in alliance with other artists in other U.S cities.
Malkia conjures portraits from abstract expressionist surfaces. DuFore does something similar, but his figures emerge from a field of faceted cubist planes. His colors are not strong. He is at his colors are not strong. He is at his best when he works in monochrome or simply with black pencil.
His Miya exhibition is hideously installed. His pictures look as if they were thrown up on the wall. those who run that gallery ought to take a hard look at Howard's installation.