Amiri Geuka Farris seems able to apply his considerable artistic skills to virtually any subject and evoke from it some compelling never-before-seen nuance or dazzling quality. This brilliant aspect of the artist’s work was apparent enough in the 38”x40” canvases titled “Elton John Red Piano,” “Charles Barkley Decepticons,” and “Sara Bareilles Love Songs” produced for 2009’s Seeing Sounds exhibit and it is even more evident in his newest installation, Africanology Realities in the American Worlds.
Just as the title indicates, the creative alchemy at work in this series is an uncommonly alluring one that reflects the dynamic energy of an artistic sensibility meditating on a conscious respect for ancestral spiritual awareness operating through the mixed media of technological signals and social customs in our modern times. Or, to put it another way: what viewers see on display is a deeply African consciousness viewing the modern world through the lens of American culture. The result is a startling painted convergence of shimmering spiritual energy and aesthetic form that generates a renewed sense of awareness and appreciation.
Standing before these large-scaled mixed media paintings, it becomes easy to consider the fun that Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden might have enjoyed dressing up iconic images of classic African sculpture in the poly-layered bling of Hip Hop culture. Or imagine––if you can make such an eternity-spanning leap––one of the venerable ancient griots of Africa or dreamwalkers of Australia themselves painting prophetic visions of contemporary times. You could also dwell among these canvases––as well as the larger body of Farris’s work––and consider the splendor that might have been produced by someone such as Andy Warhol if he had chosen to infuse his now classic pop images with layers of poetic spirals and patches of Victorian flourishes. Or contemplate the possibility of Jean-Michel Basquiat peeling away the skin on one of his nightmare traumas and replacing it with the flashing acrylic, inked, and water colors of dreams shaped into more assertive statements of strength and beauty. Once the viewer successfully makes such a leap of the imagination, then some sense emerges of what Farris has accomplished thus far in his journey through the creative multiverse.
Images such as “What Chu Talkin Bout” reveal the artist comfortably at work with layers of patterns and scenes from social history, comics, and elegant Victorian flourishes all collaged into a laid-back Hip Hop perspective that is both humorous and profound. The central character in the foreground states via a dialogue bubble, “You got it all wrong, man! Chill out! Let me rap wit’ ya!” The statement is one the character could be making to clarify a disagreement with someone else, or one the artist could be making to address would-be critics of his work. It could even go further than either of these and represent a commentary on various trends and beliefs. The viewer has the option of taking the theme provided and interpreting the words and experiencing the art however it best fits.
“Africanology 2” is a very similar yet vastly different work in which viewers see an African-styled mask afloat in a cosmos of expressionistic splashes of dark and bright colors, swirling circles, and outlines of symbols that could represent actual spiritual presences just as easily as they can the artist’s creative impulses. It is one of the stronger representations of the show’s theme illustrating an ancient African consciousness on a journey through galaxies of exploding energy, forms, and possibilities. The mask itself stands as an enduring unified construction of tradition and legacies while the surrounding environment continues to shift and morph, as if battling to establish its own definitive destiny and identity.
In one canvas (at the time untitled) the artist delivers an exceptional example of the collage, combined with original art, as a flexible and effective medium that encompasses its subject while simultaneously framing it; and, as one that simultaneously entertains and informs. Rows of Black faces, primarily those of men, form a vertical rectangle around a figure with a crimson African mask-like head wearing a modern hat, creating an effect that is eerily similar to 1960s images of African-American men carrying signs that read, “I AM A MAN.” But Farris’s image is in fact completely different in terms of visual content although it still somehow reflects much of the same spirit. The central dominant figure could be a representation of the ancestor from whom all the others have descended and instead of proclaiming “I AM A MAN,” his enduring presence quietly pronounces, “These are some of the faces I have worn throughout history.” Many we recognize and many we do not. Yet all are endowed with the same trademarks of abiding consciousness that clearly carry over from one continent and generation to the next.
Particularly notable in regard to Farris’s ability to simultaneously integrate and transcend different schools of creative aesthetics in his art is the manner in which the expanding impressive corpus of his work ––whether realistic portraits or adventures in neo-surrealism tempered by elements from history and culture––continuously evolves toward a painted statement on a unified theory of all things harmonious, creative, and meaningful. Considering that Farris is a developing musician as well as a creator of fine art, it makes sense that many of his painted compositions can be described as visual symphonies that strike an amazing balance between spontaneous eruptions of expressive jazz and lyrical lines of more controlled classically-styled ballads. More often than not, the end result may sing notes that strike chords of both recognition and revelation: the experience tends to be an elevating one that causes a shock because it reminds viewers of the power of good art even in times when the more challenging realities of the world are not very inspiring.
It is tempting––and possibly even appropriate––to describe Farris as one of those young artists destined to earn a lasting place for himself in those pages that record the history of twenty-first century art. But it may be even more important to appreciate the fact that he is among us right now: hard at work crafting canvases that honor the beauty in human lives; that tell the stories we should never forget; and that empower those dreams which color our existence with joy.
co–author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love © 9 March 2010
Causes Aberjhani * Supports
I make contributions to a number of charities through my lenses on Squidoo but the following are a few that interest me the most: