The Lancaster Museum of Art and History is opening its latest exhibition season, Activation, a series of solo exhibitions from artists Mark Steven Greenfield, April Bey, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Carla Jay Harris, and Keith Collins. The opening reception for Activation will be held on Saturday, January 22, 2022 from 4 to 6 p.m., in tandem with What Would You Say? Activist Graphics from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the second exhibition in its Local Access series. The exhibitions will remain on view until April 16, 2022.
The Opulent Blerd
Raised in The Bahamas, Los Angeles-based artist April Bey provides reflective and social critique of American and Bahamian cultures. Her artworks are often weaponized with concepts of Afrofuturism, a genre of speculative fiction regarding the future and significance of peoples and cultures within the African Diaspora. Pop culture, racial construct, and feminism are some of the many topics that Bey discusses. Research, material, and processes are crucial contributors to Bey’s work, she often travels on a national and international scale, allowing her to gather experience, material, and cultural information directly from the source.
Using an Afrofuturist lens, Bey repurposes familiar brands, phrases, and portraits to create what she refers to as her “rule-based” and “process based” artworks. Across graphic design, installations, paintings, prints, collages, videos, and handmade artist books, she creates visual commentary on the world’s rapidly increasing set of issues. Bey considers her work a physical representation of “power dynamics destroyed and radically alien views.” Her utilization of witty humor, along with her close attention to texture and color are visually striking, purposefully drawing viewers to decipher the message before them.
April Bey is both a practicing contemporary artist and art educator. She is currently a tenured professor at Glendale College and is well known for teaching a controversial course, Pretty Hurts, at the Art Center College of Design. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing in 2009 from Ball State University and her Master of Fine Arts in Painting in 2014 at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles. Bey is in the permanent collection of the California African American Museum, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, and Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas. She has exhibited internationally in biennials NE7, NE8, and NE9 in The Bahamas, and in Italy, Spain, and Ghana.
Carla Jay Harris
A Season in the Wilderness
Born in Indiana while her father was stationed at Fort Benjamin, Carla Jay Harris spent most of her childhood in flux, moving every two or three years in and out of the United States. “My nomadic childhood is what, in part, has attracted me to photography. The camera is a way for me to attach permanence,” she says. “A Season in the Wilderness” is the most recent development of “Celestial Bodies”, an ongoing series by Harris, which stems from her experiences as a ‘third-culture kid’ — feeling othered by race, culture, language, and nationality. “Throughout history, mythology has served humankind’s need to understand its surroundings... Through myth-making, I have been able to tap into a sense of belonging that extends from a connection to universal cultural concerns and narratives,” Harris says. Carla Jay Harris trained as a photographer and cinematographer, working in the commercial art field in New York for nearly ten years before committing herself to a contemporary art practice in 2011. In 2013, she moved to Southern California to earn her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has stayed in the area ever since. Over the last decade, Carla Jay Harris’ artistic practice has evolved to include installation, collage, and drawing in addition to photographic methods. Harris has exhibited extensively in California and on the East Coast, participating in solo, two-person, and group exhibitions. She has received numerous awards, grants, residencies, and fellowships, and her work can be found in the collections of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, and the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, among others.
Keith Collins is an American visual artist and designer who specializes in large-scale tapestries, performance and luxury automotive floor mats, oil paintings, and industrial assemblage sculptures. His work has adorned the walls of galleries and homes alike, blending the domestic and the commercial space. Inspired by instances of quilt making with his aunt, Collins has been interested in the re-use of material. “I went down to several carpet stores, jumped into their bins and risked the coffee grounds and stray dogs to go for the prize of these colored pieces.” This idea of recycling has morphed from utilizing discarded carpet scraps to intentionally using fragments of carpets to create his famous tapestries today.
While self-taught, Collins has proved to be a master of his craft. The quality and caliber of his work is second to none and has garnered universal respect. His status however, did not come into fruition overnight. Recalling his early days, Collins notes the time where he sold his car, a 1958 Porsche, during his freshman year in college in order to purchase the remaining supply of carpet scraps from a closing store. Although teased by his friends, Keith stuck to the decision that would eventually fuel his career.
Mark Steven Greenfield
A Survey, 2001-2021
Mark Steven Greenfield is a native Angeleno. Born into a military family, he spent his early years in Taiwan and Germany, returning to Los Angeles at the age of 10. Entering into an American adolescence after being abroad gave Greenfield a unique look at the negative stereotyping of African Americans like himself, sparking his interest in the complexities of the Black experience both historically and in contemporary society. Greenfield’s creative process is based on research that delves into topics of Black genealogy, heritage, and cultural representation. His artwork is anchored in aspects of Black history that have been buried, forgotten, or omitted. Mark Steven Greenfield studied at what is now the Otis College of Art and Design and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Education from California State University, Long Beach in 1973. To support his artistic practice, he held various positions as a visual display artist, park director, graphic design instructor, and police sketch artist before returning to school to earn his Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing from California State University, Los Angeles in 1987. Since then, Greenfield has been a significant figure in the Los Angeles arts scene, serving as arts administrator for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center and the Towers of Simon Rodia, director of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and as a board member for the Downtown Arts Development Association, the Korean Museum, and The Armory Center for the Arts — to name a few. Greenfield has been teaching painting and design courses at Los Angeles City College since 1997.
Paul Stephen Benjamin
“If the color black had a sound, what would it be?” This is one of many questions that conceptual artist Paul Stephen Benjamin explores in his multidisciplinary art practice. Through sights, sounds, and material, Benjamin explores the color black as a way to introduce and discuss different social perspectives. While visually understated, his work serves as an introduction to a broader and multifaceted conversation about race and identity. Benjamin states, “I work hard to make sure my work is not in your face,” noting that this aesthetic subtlety lends itself to a more critical and analytical approach to viewing his work. Oh Say (Remix) is a video installation that presents a compilation of various African American artists and their performances of The Star-Spangled Banner Featured artists include Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Beyoncé, with performances that range from music festivals to sporting events. The performers are arranged in conjunction with imagery of the American flag and the faces of American presidents. The work blends past and present histories, bringing these timelines into the context of today. Oh Say (Remix) examines the complexities and nuances of racial identity in America, allowing Paul Stephen Benjamin’s depiction of blackness to present itself introspectively. There is a visual and sonic power that is carried throughout the duration of Oh Say (Remix). Each scene is dense with visual information, rendered in black and white. The auditory factor of the work grounds its narrative through the repetition and rhythmic pacing of each audio track. Each track builds and builds until it creates a haunting symphony of sound. These elements act as a compression of time and space, allowing multiple histories to speak simultaneously.
Chicano Time Capsule, Nelli Quitoani
For forty years, the late Chicano artist and cartoonist Sergio Hernandez has echoed important cultural topics and socio-political issues of the Chicano community. Early on, Hernandez began working for Con Safos Magazine, the first Chicano literary magazine. Upon being recruited by Con Safos member and artist Tony Gomez, Hernandez began to align his practice with themes related to the emerging Chicano Movement or “El Movimiento”. The Chicano Movement was and still is geared toward advocating for “social and political empowerment through “chicanismo”, the idea of taking pride in one’s Mexican-American heritage, or cultural nationalism.” Across painting, cartoons, and murals, Hernandez satires socio-political happenings and provides an intimate perspective of the Chicano community. Influenced by Chicano culture, iconography, and artists alike, Hernandez’s work became a beacon calling for action and attention to the harsh realities faced by the Chicano community. The artworks in this exhibition are a small yet compelling collection of Hernandez’s contribution to the Chicano art and power movements. The panel of comic strips on display belong to the Arnie and Porfi comic series. Struggling with the duality of his identity as a Mexican- American, Hernandez often battled with his internal desire to adhere to conservative family-views and his newly found chicanismo. Hernandez expressed this conflict through satire and comedic relief through the Arnie and Porfi comics, visualizing the dystopian world. In other words, through art and humor Hernandez exposes the political oddities and disproportionate disparity experienced by Mexican- Americans. Sergio Hernandez (1948-2021) was born and raised in Los Angeles, California in the South Central area known as the Florence/Firestone District. He received his Bachelor Degree in Chicano Studies from San Fernando Valley State College, which is now known as the California State University, Northridge.