Sunday, November 23, 2008

From the pyramids to the towers to the angels

It seems only fair to backtrack and say something about the other pieces that went into the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, even though the show is down and most of the work has been parted out to happy homes.

My old friend Kevin Belford contributed two pieces to the show, From here to there was eighty six flights (top, seen in detail) and The relative hurricane of humanity.

If I'm not mistaken, he was the only artist - making work to a poem titled Nailed Seraphim, mind you - who actually figured angels, seraphim. I half expected someone to graphically nail up some image of an angel, to manifest the crucifixion image hinted at in the title of the poem and in the treatment of the central characters in the narrative. But all we got was Kevin's beautific image of angels rising, in blessed, implied contrast to the fiery fall of the towers.

On grounds of eye candy - and I don't ridicule those who want something that "looks pretty," whether or not it "goes with the sofa" (bitter modern artist put-downs of accessible work) - I thought From here to there was eighty six flights was a highlight of the show. It went home with my dear family friends John and Catherine Eiler, so I am pleased to know I will be visting this painting often and continuing a relationship with it.

Other than the angels in the title, the other visual element in this poem crying out for representation were the twin towers of 9/11 - and, again, few of the contributing artists took the bait. Libby Reuter's pieces made stylish reference to the twin towers, and Surrealist Andrew Torch turned them into crumbling columns of numbers (math bows to God, to invert the clever title of a Minutemen song).

Belford alone ventured into anything approaching realistic portrayal of the terrorized icons, though planting a pyramid at their base created a new narrative for his painting. It invokes a concept that has become proverbial in contemporary African-American culture (I first heard Isaac Hayes use it, though he did not originate it): "from the pyramids to the projects, from the projects to the stars." In Belford's painting, it's from the pyramids to the citadels of capital, and we're not talking about the stars.

Kevin, in my experience of him (which goes back years and runs deep), is cursed by being able to do too many things too well. Because, as these paintings make clear, he is a fine draftsman who can clearly articulate someone else's verbal vision, he has been at times dismissed as an "illustrator." He is an illustrator - he has worked for everyone in town - but he is also a painter and, in my opinion, his paintings stand alone as satisfying visual statements.

By the way, he is also a political cartoonist - he serves us in that capacity at The St. Louis American - a diligent researcher, and a decent writer. It seems his life work on the blues in St. Louis, which he has done in fits and starts for the American, mostly in our Black History Month sections, will finally find a publisher. I hope the same comes to pass for his projects on Stagolee and Frankie and Johnny, which I'll call graphic novels, whether or not he likes it.

The relative hurricane of humanity, by the way, also found a happy home at the silent auction. I'll find out whose tomorrow at lunch with filthy lucre specialist Serra Bording-Jones, and I'll do my best to connect artists with buyers so they can continue their relationships, if that's something they want to do. Hope so.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yeah, KB's the poo and I too have always thought that it's a shame about the "Illustrator" perception. Both is pictures for this show were stunning and thourough in their conception. Viva Belford!