Triple the art: 3 'Solo Exhibits' go from peril to pilgrimage

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 8:28 p.m.

Three solo exhibits currently at the August Wilson Center, Downtown, make up one compelling experience. Works by Leslie Ansley, Jo-Anne Bates and Tina Brewer fill the massive exhibition space on the center's second floor, with each artist's works confined to its own section.

The first pieces visitors will come to are a collection of works, 10 in all, titled “Heirloom” by Leslie Ansley that were influenced by Marie Antoinette and the aristocracy of 17th-century France. Ansley says that, although French society at that time appeared to have endless power, wealth and prominence, “they faced many perils and challenges familiar to modern families.”

That's why, in paintings like “Bread Crumbs,” which depicts a prince and princess running through a forest, looking back in trepidation, there is a sense of opulence mixed with a sense of fear. “This work addresses the parallels of self-acceptance, surviving in a changing world, the dream of reuniting with family, and never giving up hope, despite adversities,” Ansley says.

In “La Vie En Rose,” that sense of opulence takes over entirely in a regal portrait of a young woman in profile, with roses in her hair and wearing a lynx fur-collared cloak.

Curiously, many of the paintings are built up over textural layers that are reminiscent of graffiti, and this is with good reason, Ansley says.

“The series is inspired by my observations during teaching artist residencies with urban schools,” she says. “I realized that many children have a difficult time relating to history, as well as to other communities outside of their own — local or global. As a result, I created work that intertwines modern urban lives with important places and times in history to help them recognize their connections to the rest of the world.”

Quilt-maker Tina Williams Brewer also looks back at history, while moving forward with contemporary themes.

For the eight semi-abstract story quilts on display, Brewer created several print-based works at Artists Image Resource, based on her research with the Trolley Station Oral History Center.

Each a visual journey through symbolism, they depict actual travels of diasporic peoples, the inspiration for which came from the book “Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization” by Anthony T. Browder.

Though each quilt combines different fabrics, colors and imagery, visitors will, no doubt, notice that each of the pieces is based on the same circular design.

“I utilize what is called the ‘mandala,' ” Brewer says, “which is a circular concept to organize my designs used in the prints.”

The central point of the mandala is created by a map of the Nile River printed on a horizontal and vertical pattern. The Nile River fully revealed to the world educates modern man as to the antiquities of the actual cradle of civilization.

Thus, the work references navigational drawings, topographical maps and migratory patterns. “You can see how the winds of hardship and change transported our people across the globe,” Brewer says. “I reference the Caribbean, South Africa and the Nile Valley, Upper Khmet, Khartoum. I discovered that our origins start in Tanzania, Kenya … going through to the Mediterranean and, from there, to the Western Hemisphere.”

Brewer says the creation of this work was as much a pilgrimage as it was a learning endeavor. “Inspiration, aspiration and transformation is my motto,” Brewer says.

Finally, Jo-Anne Bates displays 16 multi-layered, abstract monotype prints based on her travels to South Africa.

The titles, “Pretoria,” Johannesburg” and “Robben Island,” reflect the places Bates visited in South Africa.

The prints also include ribbons of paper that are actually shredded receipts from her travels.

“I was so inspired by the incredible beauty of the country and its people, especially the colors and texture, which were everywhere,” Bates says. “This was my inspiration for creating these abstract monotype prints with texture.

“It is an amazing country and I hope I have the opportunity to visit again,” Bates says. “This body of work reflects the profound impact of color, texture and pattern of the landscape as I traveled throughout this extraordinarily beautiful country.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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