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January 28 - March 4, 2006
(above: Faith Ringgold, Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #6: I'm Leavin in the Morning, 2004, acrylic on canvas with pieced border, 82 x 65 inches)
The brilliantly colored story quilts, oils, prints, tankas, works on paper and soft sculptures of seminal artist Faith Ringgold will be on exhibit from Saturday, January 28, through Saturday, March 4, at the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery at Fairfield University. An opening reception will be held Saturday, January 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gallery, located in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. (right: Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach #2, 1990-92, silkscreen on silk, 66 x 65 inches)
This traveling exhibit from ACA Galleries in New York City offers visitors an understanding of the wide range of works from Ringgold, one of the most significant African-American artists of the modern era. They also show how Ringgold has deftly expressed the cultural, political, racial and gender statements that defined her time through such a variety of media.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Ringgold was instrumental in protests and other actions against museums that she felt neglected the work of women and people of color. Paintings included in the exhibit, such as the oils "Portrait of an American Youth" and "The In Crowd" from 1964, are overtly political and present what one biographer called "an angry, critical reappraisal of the American dream glimpsed through the filter of race and gender relations."
More recently, Ringgold has taken another tack, seeking social change through her optimistic presentations of black female heroines. Her most successful and well-known vehicle is the painted story quilt, which utilizes a bold creative medium strongly associated with women's communal work. Her understanding of the deep meaning embedded in quilts may also speak to her own heritage: Her mother was a dressmaker and fashion designer in Harlem and her great-great-great-grandmother was a Southern slave who made quilts for plantation owners.
To make her quilts, Ringgold usually starts with a large acrylic painting. Building up many layers of glaze, she works to keep the surface easy to quilt. She paints the borders separately, layers on batting and backing and then quilts by hand using a monofilament fishing line.
The folk-art quality of the quilts allows Ringgold to emphasize story over style, conveying narrative and information in addition to brilliant color and design. The exhibit includes three prime examples of Ringgold's artistry -- "Jazz Stories 2004: Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #2: Come on Dance With Me," "Subway Graffiti 2," and "Tar Beach #2."
The exhibit also includes prints, works on paper, several soft sculptures and three tankas, Tibetan-inspired works of acrylics painted on canvas and framed in cloth. In addition, the display includes 11 original illustrations from her children's book, "Tar Beach," which was a Caldecott Honor Book and won the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration. The quilt version of "Tar Beach," the first in Ringgold's Women on a Bridge series, depicts the fantasies of its spirited heroine and narrator Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who, on a warm summer night in Harlem, flies over the George Washington Bridge.
"Only eight years old and in the third grade and I can fly," Cassie says. "That means I am free to go wherever I want to for the rest of my life." (right: Faith Ringgold, Subway Graffiti 2, quilt)
The story is meant to symbolize potential and self-possession.
"My women are actually flying; they are just free, totally," she told biographer Nancy Spector. "They take their liberation by confronting this huge masculine icon -- the bridge."
Ringgold has written several other well-received books for both the children's and adult audiences.
Ringgold began her career nearly 40 years ago and she has exhibited in major museums in the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Her works are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Ringgold has received more than 75 awards, fellowships, citations and honors, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Fellowship for painting, two National Endowment for the Arts awards and 17 honorary doctorates, including one from her alma mater, City College of New York.
(above: Faith Ringgold)
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:
Faith Ringgold Paints Crown Heights. African-American artist FaIth Ringgold illustrates the folk tales of 12 distinct cultures who call Crown Heights home. This Inspirational 28 minute documentary shows how diverse cultures have contributed to the American spirit, using Ringgold's beautiful paintings. Through folktales and painting this documentary shows how these diverse cultures have contributed to the American spirit. "Culture is forever", declares Robert Farris Thompson, (Professor of History of Art and African-American Art, Yale University) as he provides insightful commentary throughout the video. Both the creative and technical aspects of making the Crown Heights painted quilt are thoroughly presented by the artist as it is being made. Ringgold describes in detail her process of preparing and quilting the canvas, using an under-painting establishing a color palette, and addingglazes of color. On being a visual artist, Ringgold speaks to the budding artist, "It's creative, it's imaginative, and it's hard work. Painting is hard work." Ringgold also comments on the cultural heritage addressed in this piece. She emphasizes that the differences in people are wonderful. Everyone's culture works for them. If it works for them, some part of it may work for you", says Ringgold. "The message of this quilt is that we are all chosen", concludes Robert Farris Thompson. 28 minute L&S Vudeo
Faith Ringgold: The Last Story Quilt. From the day she learned to draw, Faith Ringgold has worked steadily to master her craft and communicate her vision: to present a realistic view of the black female in society. This 28 minute L&S video is an insider's look at how one woman has fumlled her dream of becoming an artist. Cine Gold Eagle Award. "Interviews American painter, sculptor, and quiltmaker Faith Ringgold (b.1934) about her career as an African-American woman artist. She acknowledges the strong influence of her mother, a fashion designer and dressmaker, and describes her breakthrough technique of painting on cloth, which allowed her work to be rolled up and shipped inexpensively. Looks at the combined influence on her work of European painters and African traditions, particularly the patterns and repetition of African design." ISBN 1-882660-00-5 
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