Kevin Cole was 8 years old when he made his first visit to the Arkansas Arts Center.
"My mom took me to a summer program because one of my teachers was in a show. I remember seeing art by Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec. "
It would not be Cole's last visit; the Pine Bluff native returned many times while a student in high school and at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Now a successful artist based in the Atlanta area and a member of the influential black arts cooperative AfriCOBRA, he has paintings and sculpture in private and museum collections around the country.
Cole returned to Little Rock this past week as juror of the "61st Annual Delta Exhibition" at the Arts Center. The exhibition continues through June 30 and is the last large exhibit before the museum undergoes an extensive renovation and expansion.
"To be invited back to your home state to jury one of the most significant shows in the Southeast is a big honor," Cole says. "I grew up learning about this show, hearing people say it could be a launching pad for your career." He had a work in the 1999 exhibition.
"It helped my career. When I applied for grants and other shows, I could say I was accepted by the Delta Exhibition."
Cole has juried other exhibitions and has some key points he relies on for assessing the art.
"I look at the impact of the work; when I first see it, how do I respond to it? I consider the composition of the work and its elements -- line, shape, color, balance. The idea of craftsmanship if it applies and the four steps of art criticism in making decisions: description, analysis, interpretation and judgment."
This year's Delta had more than 1,000 submissions.
It took six days to review them, Cole says.
"I looked at them on computer first and narrowed it down. My assistant got a projector, and I put the images on the wall so I could see details. That made a real difference. A lot of people might complain about Carl [Virmarie DePoyster's painting of a dog], but there are patterns behind that dog that tell a story. Projecting Birds of a Feather revealed the collage's layering and text that integrated with the background. It had a real push and pull, but the aesthetic was there."
Birds of a Feather won artist Scinthya Edwards of Helena-West Helena one of the two Delta Awards.
When Cole arrived at the museum in Little Rock, he saw the 50 pieces he had chosen for the first time and narrowed the choices again to select three major awards and the honorable mentions.
"I was surprised with the number of provocative works. There were lots of surprises when I saw the actual work for the first time," he says.
Selecting the winners was tough, he says.
"The Grand Award was the hardest thing. So much good work. But I kept going back to it, wondering why did this stay in my mind? And its title -- American Made: Greed, Lust & Lost Love -- made it work. In this day and time, it's a sign of the times. [Mabry Turner] put her heart in it, you can feel the pain, good times, bad times. It reminds me of Valerie Maynard's Get Me Another Heart, This One Has Been Broken Too Many Times."
American Made won Turner of Little Rock the top prize; her first Delta Exhibition award. She last exhibited in the show in 1986.
Edwards' Delta winner was praised by Cole for its abstract quality combined with realistic images that created a sense of a combination of collagist/painter Romare Bearden, modernist Stuart Davis and German abstract expressionist Kurt Schwitters.
The second Delta Award was won by Cabot's Heather Christine Guenard for LV-426, a collagraph plate and collagraph print on paper. Cole found the work appealing. "The composition had abstract qualities . . . You don't see many collagraphs any more, and to have the artist put the plate with the print doesn't normally happen."
Cole evokes Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" in describing this year's Delta.
"The art in this exhibition is a sign of the times. This is where we live with personal problems, social issues, political issues, but we keep going. That's what this art is showing: what's going on."
PRAISES ART TEACHERS
During Cole's talk at the Arts Center's members' opening May 2, he drew applause for praising his high school art teacher, Mary Ann Stafford, who was in the audience.
"She always encouraged me; she told me I should attend UAPB because she said I'd have the nurturing I needed to become an artist. And she was right."
Stafford, he said, was very patient. "Because of my speech impediment, I didn't want to talk in class about my work. She would sit there and wait and tell me 'you are going to talk about it; however long it takes.' She told me I would have to do an interview to get into college and would have to talk about my work. She was right.
"Art was my therapy," Cole says. "When I had a bad day, usually because of my speech impediment, Mom said, 'Let's make art.'"
The UAPB art department included acclaimed Delta landscape painter Henri Linton and the man who became Cole's mentor, Tarrence D. Corbin.
In his juror's statement, Cole quotes Corbin: "Good art is the result of good decision-making."
Corbin, he says, educated him about the Delta, too.
"He won the Grand Award in 1975, which he said launched his career."
"I was thrilled," Mabry Turner said when she heard her name announced as the Grand Award winner. "It's a validation of what we do. What I'm doing now is a combination of everything I've learned artistically and as a human being. I have the perspective one gets with age, and I let my emotions come out in my work."
The Little Rock resident had a show at Cantrell Gallery in the '80s, but does not have gallery representation.
"I hope this win will help me find a place to show my work," she says.
Edwards, who has shown work at M2 Gallery and Historic Arkansas Museum, says she feels validated. "Iconography, symbolism and calligraphy are the elements of my collage work," she says. The retired educator and arts administrator's Birds of a Feather was her first work accepted for the exhibition.
"When he called my name, it took my breath," she says. "I was very surprised and elated. It's an honor to be acknowledged by your peers."
She also hopes to find gallery representation and plans to become active on social media.
Cabot resident and former firefighter Heather Christine Guenard was not at the Arts Center when the winners were announced. That night, tornado sirens started blaring, and she took refuge in the bathroom.
"When the news I'd won a prize popped up on my phone, I screamed! I just got my bachelor's degree in art education; someone suggested I enter the Delta. I was shocked just to get in the show."
Her collagraph print and plate LV-426 also was part of her award-winning senior art show at the University of Central Arkansas.
Guenard has a website (inkandspirals.com) and a presence on Instagram, where she sells her work.
Five artists won honorable mentions: Memphis artist Julie Darling's Obscurity Often Brings Safety, a charcoal, graphite, ink, gouache and gesso on Stonehenge paper; Dylan Eakins of Little Rock's charcoal, graphite and acrylic on paper titled Portrait in Precipitate II; Mark Lewis of Tulsa's Head (SP), a collaged scrap paint and oil on panel; Pine Bluff's Mark Payne, whose work Denial is an acrylic on wood; and Little Rock resident Sandra Sell's cherrywood sculpture Wood Line.
Michael Warrick's bronze sculpture Youth won the Arts Center auxiliary group's Contemporaries Award.
Two of the three top Delta Exhibition winners -- Turner and Edwards -- are past their 70th birthdays. When he learned it, Cole's reaction was a big grin. "That's great. I look at these women and that tells me you have to keep going, you just don't stop."
Brian Lang, chief curator at the Arts Center, agreed. "These two women are inspiring for all who have been consistently rejected in years previous."
This year's Delta Exhibition has a sense of freshness with lots of new faces in the mix. Content-wise, if you relish a visceral reaction to art, you'll find a lot to enjoy and reflect upon. A couple of pieces are a bit heavy-handed in commentary, but as Lang says, "It's a sign of the times. There are themes here that weren't here last year. Politics, social issues are aspects of our society. Art is supposed to provoke dialogue."
• Sell's Wood Line, an awesome carved cherrywood sculpture. Sleek and uplifting.
• Kim Brecklein's magnetic Mikee's Future. The Harrison artist's oil on canvas captures a girl looking directly at the viewer, and we can't help but wonder what she's thinking.
• Emily Wood's very cool Working Self-Portrait, a watercolor and watercolor pencil work on a worn shirt. The Little Rock artist works magic on a very difficult surface.
• Little Rock resident Jason Rankin's graphite on paper drawing Bend 4 is a female nude that exudes elegance and beauty. It feels timeless and also modern.
• Berryville-born artist Amber Imrie's Dwarfed Expansion is an archival pigment ink on cotton with a branch and skillfully used sewing thread to create a three-dimensional forest scene.
• One of the exhibit's heartbreaking works is Little Rock resident Zachary Blair's oil on board titled Witness. This woman's story seems to be one of torture or violence. Powerful story there.
• DebiLynn Fendley of Arkadelphia's gripping aquatint on paper Night also tells a story of fear, perhaps terror, in the night.
• Russellville resident Olevia "Libby" Caston's abstract, Cranial Explosions, is a work of movement with bold strokes of acrylic, graphite, India ink and grease pencil on paper.
• Eakin's Portrait in Precipitate II, a charcoal, graphite and acrylic on paper, is a fine photorealistic study of a man's face caught in the rain.
• Jason McCann's The American Student: Marik Before Athletic Period generated praise from Cole for capturing "the spirit of this child in his eyes."
• And finally, don't forget Carl, Virmarie DePoyster's charming dog, an acrylic, watercolor paper, colored pencil and pastel work on canvas. He's got a story to tell; just don't try to pet him.
What about next year? The Arkansas Arts Center starts its two-year renovation and expansion work this fall.
"It is our intention to continue the Delta while we remodel," Lang says.
Style on 05/12/2019
Print Headline: A different perspective