Remembering Robert L. Douglas, Pioneer of Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde



LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: Robert L. Douglas, on view on the Velocity Artwork Museum, contains greater than 30 work, drawings, prints, and sculptures by the just lately deceased artist who, together with contemporaries Sam Gilliam and Bob Thompson, co-founded Gallery Enterprises, a collective of Black creatives that existed in Louisville from about 1957 to ’61. That is what I believed the title’s “avant-garde” was referencing — a neighborhood that prefigured extra well-known Black artist collectives in bigger cities like New York and Chicago that weren’t energetic till later within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s. 

As an alternative, the present is the primary in a sequence of 4 highlighting members of the Louisville Artwork Workshop, a later collective that Douglas helped lead all through its existence, from roughly 1966 to ’78. Maybe the “avant-garde” descriptor is supposed extra broadly: Whether or not they had been gathering within the late Fifties or the Nineteen Seventies, Louisville’s Black artists had been organizing collectively as a result of many White-dominated arts establishments would not offer them opportunities to point out their work. 

Figures of Black ladies, usually bare, dominate the modest present; most are from Douglas’s sequence The Shades of Earth Mom, which preoccupied the final 4 many years of his apply, in line with the wall textual content. The 60 works within the sequence depict 20 totally different ladies, every with a preliminary sketch, a large-scale oil portray, and a smaller oil portray. Three of those “units” are included (“Zambia,” “Ursula,” and “Doris”) and collectively date from 1973 to 1991. In every instance, the nude ladies are represented in a home setting, seated on a chair or rug, with brilliant, trendy furnishings and what appears to be an African figurine in shut proximity.

Set up view of Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: Robert L. Douglas at The Velocity Artwork Museum

Within the bigger work, Douglas’s ladies are realized with curving types in heat, real looking shades of butterscotch and mocha, but idealized, with their flawless pores and skin, lengthy legs, and rounded breasts. But within the smaller works, he paints extra abstractly: detailed, expressive faces are simplified, mask-like, into planes of shade; breasts are remodeled from sensual anatomies into spherical geometries; and limbs and torsos glow with deep blue, orange, and lime inexperienced tones. In these works, the ladies extra carefully resemble the vintage collectible figurines positioned close to them; extra object-like, they turn into much less objectified, studied for his or her formal, moderately than sexual, qualities.

5 early work (1960–64) present Douglas at his most expressive, by way of intimate scenes depicting one to 4 individuals in thick paint with saturated colours and emphatic, assured brushstrokes. In “So What” (1961), 4 males sit carefully at a bar, every face, shirt, and glass an space of abstraction that could be indecipherable faraway from the portray. Darkish greens, blues, and browns are electrified with highlights of brilliant orange, yellow, crimson, and white, bestowing an thrilling, vibratory vitality. “Then What Did She Say?” (1964) focuses on a home second with equally simplified figures: two ladies, seated in a lounge, lean towards one another in dialog whereas a toddler performs on a close-by rug. Douglas’s palette is softer however no much less vibrant, favoring peaches and salmons and reds as he emphasizes round types (a rug, two aspect tables) and curves (a vase, a lamp) amid a sea of pink, blue, and black brushwork.

The present’s earliest work, “The Painter” (1960), is definitely a self-portrait in some sense: a person stands in his residence or studio, a palette and brush in his arms and an easel at his aspect. The boldly coloured furnishings and objects are flattened so your entire room appears to exist in a single comfortably claustrophobic aircraft. The topic, clothed in blue denims and a yellow shirt, is rendered with minimal element. Violet shadow obscures one aspect of his face; from the opposite, he stares on the viewer with one black smudge of an eye fixed, keen himself to be seen. 

Robert L. Douglas, “The Painter” (1960), oil on Masonite
Set up view of Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: Robert L. Douglas at The Velocity Artwork Museum
Robert L. Douglas, “Ideas in Blackness” (1976), pen and ink on paper
Robert L. Douglas, “So What” (1961), oil on Masonite

Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: Robert L. Douglas continues on the Velocity Artwork Museum (2035 South Third Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky) by way of October 1. The exhibition was organized by the Velocity Artwork Museum and curated by Dr. fari nzinga, curator of Educational Engagement and Particular Initiatives on the Velocity, with assist from Sarah Battle, coordinator of Educational Packages and Publications, Heart for Superior Examine within the Visible Arts, Nationwide Gallery of Artwork. 


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