Making Art as a Means to an End

“Current 1” by F. Geoffrey Johnson

 

Making Art as a Means to an End

By Max Eternity

 

F. Geoffrey Johnson started his creative life as a poet, but says he grew into visual art to express in sight what he wanted to be heard.  “I’ve been a poet since 1974, and started making visual art as a form of expressing poetry.  I approached it as another way of getting language across, because everybody is not reading poetry,” he says.   Johnson is part of a 2-person show with Kerly Sufferen entitled CURRENTS.  The exhibit—curated by Alice Lovelace—is on display at the Georgia Peace Center on Walton Street in Downtown Atlanta.

“The Ways and Means of Making Art: Black Men Speak Out”  is the central theme of the exhibition, with the exhibit showcasing the work of two men from different generations.  “Geoffrey is in his 60’s grew up influenced by Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement, while Kerly in his thirties sites the influence of Hip-Hop culture as a major factor in shaping his sense of identity and politics” reads a press release.

The CURRENTS exhibition is being held in tandem with other complimentary events.  On Friday, November 18th from 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, a panel discussion will be held.   Panelists include: Radcliff Bailey, Kevin Sipp, Ed Spriggs and Tina Dunkley.  Another event is on Saturday, November 19th from – 7:00pm – 10:00pm, and it’s “an intergenerational interactive performance panel” entitled Black Male Attitudes from the Civil Rights Movement to Hip-Hop. It features Fahamu Pecou, MONDU, Edward Garnes, Jon Goode, Jim Alexander, and Mausiki Scales.

Commenting on his work, Johnson says:

I’m dealing with social and political commentary…stories that can bring a discussion to the table that may not have a loud enough voice.  In creating a larger voice—adding to a dialog that has already been started—maybe something can be done about a situation.

Johnson elaborated further on art and socio-political commentary in the following interview:

 

“Currents 2” by F. Geoffrey Johnson

 

Talk about your influences and how you came to be an artist?

I’ve been a poet since 1974, and started making visual art as a form of expressing poetry.  I approached it as another way of getting language across, because everybody is not reading poetry.

I started painting in 2006; though I had been creating art twenty years before that.  I had worked with tables, clocks and carpet in an artistic sense, but wasn’t calling myself an artist.  In 2006 I made the conscious decision to start painting.

How would you describe your art?

It has to tell a story.  The story is very import.

I’m dealing with social and political commentary…stories that can bring a discussion to the table that may not have a loud enough voice.  In creating a larger voice—adding to a dialog that has already been started—maybe something can be done about a situation.

The art that I’ve been working with now is with satellite dishes.  The electronic circuit boards parts come from objects I had around, from things that had stopped working.

I want people to “read” it and ask questions—to want to dialog with the piece.

I did a piece called”Screwed” with teabags coming down off it.  These tea bags represent unarmed African-Americans that had been killed since 2000.  As I started doing the project, I discovered that I could find an African-American killed by the police in any city since 2000.  If I went beyond 2000, I wouldn’t have enough room to list everybody.  For instance, in Philadelphia in an 18 month period there were 36 unarmed African-Americans killed by police.  In L.A., between African Americans and Latinos, there was like 100 in 2 years.

Oscar grant is on one of those teabags.  It’s almost like an epidemic.

People are still upset here about the massive oil spill in the Gulf, but that’s been going on in Nigeria for decades in Nigeria.   I did a piece on the 50 year oil spill in Nigeria, just to bring attention to that situation.

The Occupy movement is about people speaking truth-to-power.  Do you have any thoughts about that?

My only experience with the Occupy movement has been here in Atlanta.  I don’t know who is leading any of these movements.  I don’t know what the real goals are.   Although, I do think that the issue of corporate greed has been affecting African-Americans; before African-Americans were [citizens] in the US, and Africans in Africa before that…the slave trade.

It’s nothing new to African-Americans.  That you have more Caucasians involved, it’s getting more attention.

Where is the attention for redlining, for foreclosures, where you can run through African-American neighborhoods and see hundreds and hundreds of houses just boarded up.  And they don’t have the where-with-all to even fight that problem with the banks.  There’s a fight going on that until the Caucasians get behind it, things tend to get swept under the rug.  The occupy movement has got to be pinpointed to something specific…like getting the way the banks change how they handle this foreclosure situation.

What prompted the title for the Currents exhibition?

It’s a metaphor for African-Americans to think of the currents that brought Africans cross the ocean to America.  There are currents in electronics, and currency greatly affects the lives of Africans and African-Americans.

Where is the pace of visual art in African-American life?

We don’t recognize the art that’s in our lives a lot of times.  We neglect to value visual art.  That hurts a lot of visual artists.  It makes a lot of our art reflect the same themes, because a lot of artists draw and paint to make a living.  So they wind up painting the same stories over again.

I tell people that if I see a curved piano or saxophone player again, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.  In music you can only tell the same story over and over again and send it out on the airwaves for so long.  In visual art, I don’t know of any other profession that has the stigma that has the word “starving” put in front of the occupation.  We don’t say starving doctor, starving lawyers, starving drug dealers.  But we say starving artist so often that we perpetuate that stigma.  We don’t educate ourselves to the value of visual art.

We need to teach children that they can make a living at art.  We need this in our culture.  That’s what got the black arts movement started—we started telling our own stories.

Art will advance through us artists and the community by telling stories that can help out community instead of bringing us down.

Contact Alice Lovelace for additional information:  alovelace@afsc.org

 

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