Q. Is it fair to talk of black art? Is there such a thing?
A. There are black artists. I don't know if there is a black art. Yet.
Q. You are an abstract painter . . .
A. I hope so.
Q. Is there something of Africa, an African idiom, in your work?
A. I think I'm getting there. I don't think I have it yet. I'm searching for some spirituality. I guess everyone strives for it. It should be able to come forth and illuminate itself. In Joyce Scott's work you see it. Is it African? I think it is.
Q. Among the black artists working in this city do you find a shared concern with African idioms and motifs?
A. There is a shared concern. Unfortunately, I think I am outside of that concern in terms of the visual. But in terms of the emotional, I'm not. When I speak of the African idiom in art, I cite four elements: improvisation, rhythm, tradition, and that sense of the spiritual.
Q. Do you think that Washington's black art -- Ed Love calls it African-American art -- is intrinsically political?
A. I don't know. I haven't been able to weed through that. But I think it probably is. There is some confusion here because, I don't think we are Africans living in America. I think that we are Africans and that we're Americans. Once we acknowledge that we are both, then we can really make African-American art. We cannot ignore our African heritage, our African counterpart, eigher. We live here day to day. This is what we know.
Q. If black art comes from black experience, then should the white viewer judge it with standards that do not apply to European art?
A. I hope the viewer doesn't. I hope the viewer cares about quality, sensitivity, some personal interaction with the work. Many times Afro-American art has a tendency to be so vivd and strong that it shocks the viewer into immediately liking it or immediately disliking it. In those cases, I'm not sure whether it's esthetics that's working, or politics. Maybe one of my problems is that I disassociate myself from whatever message someone wants to make sure that I get. I go by it, and I look, and than I make my decisions.
Q. Do black artists have a more difficult time than white artists in the Washington art market?
A. Oh, of course.There are lots of reasons. One is that galleries in the mainstream are only going to have so many black artists. I don't care how good they are . . .
Q. Is there a quota?
A. It may not be a conscious quota.
Q. It may be that black art says to the white buyer, "Don't buy me. I'm for some other public."
A. The buyer has to live with what he buys. I don't wnat to live with something I don't like, that I'm not supportive of philosophically.
Q. Does Washington's black community give adaquate support to Washington's black artists?
A. Oh, no way. We don't think of art as an integral part of our life. That's part of our heritage we've lost. I'm not talking about Afro-Americans who would have to sacrifice food to buy art. I'm talking about an economic group that can afford art, but will go to Sloane's to buy something before they will go to the Fendrick Gallery to buy Yvonne Carter. s
Q. Isn't something new emerging, particularly at Howard, in Washington's black art?
A. That may be true of the Africobra group, of Jeff Donaldson, and of Frank Smith and some other artists now at Howard. Their art has changed. They're getting closer to Africa by being more expressive. You said that Ed Love's piece, "Winter in American," is raw. It has to be raw. That's the only way.
Q. It's not likely to sell.
A. It's alright if no one buys what I've made. I've made a few things that are really beautiful that I don't want anyone to buy. I want them for myself. I never really make money. I don't break even on the sale of my work.
Q. I hear that all the time, and not only from black artists. Shouldn't the community develop some new mechanism that would serve black artists and the black art buying public?
A. It isn't there yet, buy it's coming. It's springing up all around us.
There are many small dealers trying to get established, trying to get roots in the black community, trying to pull it all together. That takes money. To operate a gallery you need a two- or three-year reserve fund.
Q. Do you think black art here is growing less political?
A. Yes. My peers in the Africobra Group are going to be upset with me when I speak of their defensive posture. That defensiveness is changing. By defensive I mean . . . I won't try to justify it. Their art is less political, but certainly more African, than it used to be. It was too political. Now, Jeff's work . . .
Q. Jeff Donaldson. He used to be in Africobra. He now teaches at Howard.
A. Right. Jeff's work, no matter how political, always had finesse. In that sense, it was always refined and dignified. He was always into esthetics.
Q. What about the contribution of what I call the Howard School?
A.The political and social issues that came to a head in the '60s focused more attention on their sort of art. But the base was there before. No, they didn't invent the wheel. They just added another spoke. Actually I don't think anyone's done anything since Kandinsky.