1010 N HIGHLAND AVE
December 15 - February 17
Andy Robert’s Smoking Gun (all works 2017) is a mass of speckled paint. The broken brushstrokes on the substrate dissolve and then corrugate in the manner of late Impressionism, Arte Povera, or even tachism. At times, pure, nonlocalized color abuts less welcoming mixtures that approach the hues of mud. From a distance, silvery tones, deeper beiges, and warm ivories read as only slight deviations from the canvas. Up close, at center, a body emerges, a black body. One wearing cutoff blue jeans, a hat, and carrying a firearm slung over one shoulder. The figure is based on a mass-produced image of a Maroon in the Caribbean. Thus is our ingress into Robert’s geography, as the show’s title cryptically hints: “Lakou: One Two Five.”
The titular Haitian Creole word denotes not only a space of habitation but also the shared environs of ancestry. It is an inheritance that cannot be sold. “One Two Five,” or 125th Street in Harlem, is where most of these paintings were made. Harlem, which has been the heart of so many overlapping diasporic black communities, even appears in the seated portrait Thelma Golden. The iconic Studio Museum director’s face is obscured in a jumble of sienna browns while vivacious purple lines pattern her dress. The museum building behind her, a bedrock for African American artistic praxis, looms larger. In more nonobjective paintings, such as Cross Country D, specific loci go adrift in a work constituted by many small canvases all swarming with blue marks indicative of water.
Although it is easy to think of the water as some one-to-one stand-in for the slave trade and escape, Robert acknowledges the complexities of these issues as he untangles them in paint. The Maroons were neither freed people nor slaves; not even fugitives, they were resistance fighters who occupied mountainous areas in the West Indies and Guiana, among other places. In the triptych Higher Ground: Soon, Higher Ground: Past Present, Higher Ground: Here, the black body is in a modern city. In these paintings they, the warriors and their descendants, exist in the now.