Printmaker, painter and visual editorialist, William Gropper (1897-1977), spent six decades bearing witness. Growing up in poverty on the Lower East Side, Gropper learned early about social injustice. He dropped out of school to work in the sweatshops but found respite in drawing and studied with Robert Henri and George Bellows. Gropper’s aunt was a victim of 1911’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which further radicalized his thinking. Along with his study of artists who came before him, it was the graphic works of Goya and Daumier that helped solidify his direction as an artist.
From 1915-1935, Gropper held staff positions on various publications, from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, the New York Tribune and Smart Set, to leftist papers such as the New Masses, The Nation and the Sunday Worker. Incredibly prolific, for the Yiddish Freiheit alone, over an eleven year period Gropper created thousands of political cartoons.
M77 Gallery presents the exhibition The Differend,
a solo show by painter Odili Donald Odita,
from Tuesday 31 May to Saturday 17 September 2016.
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Odita lives and works in the United States,
in Philadelphia and New York.
His work includes references to the experience
of Afro-American abstract artists in the ‘70s and ’80s,
and it explores dimensions of colour as developed
throughout the history of landscape and figurative art,
but also according to an idealistic sense
of socio-political interpretation.
The exhibition presents a selection of works
made especially for the show.
They include a site-specific work, a large wall-painting –
a genre for which Odita is particularly famous and appreciated
– which will entirely cover one of the walls
of Galleria M77.
The exhibition’s name comes from the title
of the eponymous book by philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998):
differend (difference of opinion, disagreement)
is a term of french origin that marks the moment
at which language becomes insufficient for communication.
According to Lyotard,
the meaning of a sentence cannot be established
on the basis of the facts to which it refers:
reality is a conglomerate of possible meanings,
linked to reality through words.
Therefore language is inadequate to describe
and understand the world,
and the true meaning of every sentence will always remain indeterminate.
Odita borrows this relativistic approach from verbal language
and applies it to pictorial language,
giving colours the same multiplicity of meanings
that Lyotard assigned to words.
Odili Donald Odita uses colour as a metaphor of cultural codes:
the tones that he creates have the objective
of striking familiar chords in the observer,
encouraging mental associations and becoming a reflection
of the world’s complexity.
Odita has a dual heredity, Western and African,
and he brilliantly combines them in his visual compositions,
crossing frontiers into unexplored territories.
Abandoning the idea of a central focal point in the image,
Odita invites observers to move and modify their viewpoint.
This opens multiple perspectives of ever-changing colour,
giving the painting a sculptural, three-dimensional effect.
Odita structures the image from inside,
creating intersecting geometries in contrasting hues.
They are flat fields, wedges of colour that split and expand,
with repetition and changing forms generating pulsating rhythms.
The artist says:
“The colors I use are personal: they reflect the collection
of visions from my travels locally and globally.
This is also one of the hardest aspects of my work as
I try to derive the colors intuitively,
hand-mixing and coordinating them along the way.
In my process, I cannot make a color twice
– it can only appear to be the same.
This aspect is important to me as it highlights the specificity
of differences that exist in the world of people and things.”
A world of differences,
which can return to unity through art:
for Odili Donald Odita,
beauty is that which creates awareness of,
and brings you closer to,
the idea of a united humanity.
In 2007, his large installation Give Me Shelter
had an important position
at the 52nd Venice Biennale,
as part of the exhibition
“Think with the senses, Feel with the mind: Art in the Present Tense,”
on invitation by Robert Storr.
In recent years, Odita has been commissioned to paint
a number of large-format wall installations,
including the murals
at The United States Mission at the United Nations in New York (2011),
at the Savannah College of Art and Design (2012),
New York Presbyterian Hospital (2012),
New Orleans Museum of Art, Kiasma, Helsinki (2011)
and George C. Young, U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Orlando, Florida (2013).
He works with prestigious galleries including
The Jack Shainman Gallery in New York,
for which he has also curated the exhibition, The Color Line.
He has been featured in many solo shows,
Odili Donald Odita: Third Degree of Separation, Michael Stevenson Gallery,
Cape Town, South Africa, 2015;
Evolving Geometries: Line, Form, and Color, Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech,
Blacksburg, VA, 2014.
The most recent was The Velocity of Change, in December 2015,
at the Jack Shainman Gallery.
Odita has exhibited in important group shows,
Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti,
curated by Trevor Schoonmaker,
at the New Museum of Contemporary Art,
New York; NEW NEW YORK: Abstract Painting in the 21st Century,
at University Art Galleries & The John Young Museum of Art of Hawaii, Manoa;
and Represent: 200 Years of African American Art,
Philadelphia Museum of Art, United States.
The Differend exhibition
presented at M77 Gallery
will be accompanied by a catalogue with texts by
Robert C. Morgan and Michele Bonuomo.