LOVE'S ARMY - Shaman & the Knight
Amongst the cool evening of a fresh November dusk, the purity of the young Dionysus’ eager greeting granted both an outpouring of light and warmth from the Urban Art Gallery in West Philly. Taken by the hand of the small but assured leader, I was led on a journey through her art as she introduced us to one of two heart-shaped collaborative pieces by her and her father, CJ the Artist. An obvious starting point, the work is an immediate nod to her veteran status amongst Love’s Army and the progression of her involvement, as the canvas is recognizable immediately as one of the specially designed canvases in previous shows. The piece — an echoing heart-shaped rainbow with a character by her father painted on sticker style — is surrounded by photos that mark her own growth, each of which she proudly explains in full detail, between giggles about the character on the heart.
From the heart as the starting point, we were guided around the room to receive a full introduction to every individual piece, with excited narration that pointed out differences in material —the use of wood as canvas for an eye-catching flamingo that held my attention through the evening; the incorporation of glitter “from when my mom had glitter paint in the house” — and equally delighted exclamation in identifying those that belonged to her father, CJ the Artist, as well as their similarities in subject matter. Although Dionysus is developing her own distinct style, a wall featuring flowers by both artists couldn’t show more clearly the connection and inspiration by her father’s art. His free-floating sunflowers and gerbera daisies (or similar) on bright backdrop were matched in their stemlessness and livelihood of bold brush stroke by daughter and it inspired me to wonder if they weren’t in the same place creating these. Dionysus own evolution on canvas – some as tall as her – tells a story of observation and practice, as layers, various application of colour, and attention to proportions develop through the pieces, set in complement to her father’s bold and layered work.
CJ the Artist’s canvases – which, beyond flora, included black chess pieces on black backdrop in a study of highlight for the viewer, women of inspiration, and, my personal favourites, ice cream cones – present a style that evokes fun and pride in the audacity of being seen, as if to say, “this is imagination and look what I can do with it.” Though every subject, from woman to flower, carries depth and dimension, the bright colours often selected and contrasted against backdrop are reminiscent of vinyl appliques. The ice cream series reinforced this especially, seemingly alluding to graffiti art. “Up” in particular, featured pink and blue scoops outlined in white that melt on top of grey and grittier brush strokes with highlights of the same tones. In the background, my eyes pulled out a storefront or home lit with the flashing blue and pink. Though it called to memory the passing flashing lights of police in the night, the “hug” of the pink ice cream that sat atop the blue and layered in stretching, melting fingers suggests a more promising, wholesome embrace that stands apart from this, perhaps like that of a vivacious daughter, who can see the light in the brightness and joy in simple things – like a double scoop of ice cream.
Dionysus appropriately concluded by taking us back to the start – the larger of the two heart-shaped canvases, a second collaborative piece. With much adoration for her father’s work, she explained the figure that filled the painting was her own portrait and identified which flowers belonged to him, proudly touching each of the petals in one of her own contributed flowers at the bottom of the heart as she explained the collaboration between father and daughter. That the young artist book-ended the show with the collaborative hearts is no accident and a marker of the love that underscores the curation by chief of the healing tribe, B/ue Robin.
Although no moment lacked energy for the fire of Dionysus and the boldness of CJ’s palette, the evening was lifted further by the sharp call to attention of a snare as a three-man drum line entered the space and brought the room into movement, emphasizing the celebratory nature of the evening. Whourockinwit completed the collection as community movers and healers who also sponsor “put down the guns and pick up some drums.” Involving the audience in the act, they closed with a special call for the father and daughter duos to the front, where Dionysus revealed herself as the possessor of multiple talents and fearless heart, dancing from start to finish with her father by her side.
The fun and beautiful moment brought again to the forefront the theme of love and special focus on the power in the bond between daughter and father, with Father first as model and protector [knight] giving space for Daughter to be and explore all her heart’s creative desires and to draw these out from and inspire others with confidence and the surety that Dad’s arms will scoop her up and carry her back to safety when her dancing feet get tired. The artifacts of this love were on full display in paint and genuine moments between father and daughter for all to bear witness.
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