Monday, July 25, 2011

We Travel the Space Ways

Detail of Fantastic Garveyite (2011) by Robert Pruitt

Back in May, I discussed my admiration for the music and style of Sun Ra. Well, imagine my enthusiasm when I saw the new exhibit at Koplin Del Rio, "Them from After the End of the World: Works by Robert Pruitt." The show features many of the same concepts of afrofuturism that can be found in Sun Ra's work, but given a contemporary expression in portraiture.

Rather than the glittery Egyptian-like headdresses and paraphernalia of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, Pruitt gives his subjects accouterments of technoscrap, reminiscent of neon signs, old fashion radio/television antennae, and early aerospace detritus. There is both a futurism and an obsolesce to these figures. They have a patient certainty in defiance to their abandoned state. They are not the sleek protagonists of standard Space Adventures, with shiny gadgets capable of conquering the challenges among the stars. No, Pruitt's subjects feel more like the determined survivors of a Post-Apocalyptic world, in which technology is resurrected from the junkyard of a failed civilization.

El Saturn (2011) by Robert Pruitt

There is no triumphalist afrocentrism in Pruitt's work, although there are plenty of African elements such as the various totems, fetishes, and headdresses that the subjects bear. And I think the lack of overt ethnic celebration is intentional. Afrofuturism and afrocentricism have often been used as forms of escapism. Pruitt's subjects are not drifting away into "the Mothership's" dreamspace. They are given a focused presence in the here-and-now, although they express a yearning for that escape into the stars.

The technique is very tangible in these works. The bold strokes and lines, the shadowy erasures, these physical hints of the artist are clearly expressed in the materials. The overall effect is a rough but candid aesthetic voice. These are honest portraits and authentic statements. The creative process is shared with the viewer.

Brother Going to Gleise 581 B (2011) by Robert Pruitt

I definitely find them engaging and interesting. I recommend this exhibit.

Since we brought up the topic of Sun Ra, here's a classic piece from the classic 1959 album, Jazz in Silhouette:

Here's a link to the Koplin Del Rio website.

Here's a link to Robert Pruitt's website.

And here's Sun Ra's Wikipedia page.


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