Sunday, July 31, 2011

RECAP: Fear No Art Location

Always read the fine print. That's something I did five weeks ago when I came across the above classified ad in a Chicago weekly newspaper. Driven by sheer curiosity -- I had never heard of James V. Allen or the Urban Art Retreat -- I decided to attend the art reception and on its scheduled  day (the actual date of the show was 7/2, not 6/2) I traveled there on public transportation.

Now, I've lived my entire life in Chicago. I know the layout pretty well. I had no doubt I would find the Urban Art Retreat with no problems but when I stepped out of the Kedzie Avenue Pink Line Transit Station on Chicago's west side, I was distressed. I couldn't gauge the neighborhood because it  was nearly 100 degrees and there were no people outside; it felt like a scene in a Western film where the town folk knew danger was headed its way and took shelter in their homes to avoid impending doom. (I was mindful of the fact that this wasn't a movie scenario because there were no tumbleweeds.)

I brushed off my anxiety. It returned a half block later when I noticed an abandoned garage plastered in plywood and tagged with gang symbols in blood red letters. I took a deep breath and forged on. On the next block I saw the first sign of human existence: a street mechanic repairing cars in an alley. At that moment, a car broadcasting raunchy R&B music screeched by. There were five or six male passengers inside. As the car (and music) dashed through the intersection, I observed a street sign that read "Spaudling." I turned at the corner and immediately spotted six reedy teenagers gathered in front of a greystone building, each one dressed in humongous white t-shirts and baggy denims. I debated whether or not to cross the street. I took another deep breath and decided "no detours."

I sighed with relief when I arrived at the doorsteps of the Urban Art Retreat. Inside, I was instantly drawn to James Allen's artwork; his paintings were fragile and pointed. I interviewed him for BlackArtistNews and found him mellow and generous. I don't want to reveal too much about the conversation (I hope to post the interview before the end of August) but I will state that: James V. Allen is a living, breathing example of why art matters!

I took a different route back to the Kedzie train station. Vital signs of life were more abundant: a snow-cone vendor with a line of customers that would put Starbucks to shame, a group of children playing tag in the street and the brown, sweaty back of a man tinkering under the hood of a car. During the train ride, the Tupac Shakur poem “A Rose That Grew From Concrete” crossed my mind. That’s exactly what the Urban Art Retreat is, I thought, and James V. Allen is one of its petals. As the train whizzed on I saw “roses” blooming practically everywhere: graphic graffiti dancing under viaducts,  sensational Street Art waving from rooftops, and majestic murals tattooed alongside  corner stores. It just goes to show that visual culture thrives in the most unexpected places.

Urban Art Retreat on YouTube:

Urban Art Retreat

BlackArtistNews extends appreciation to the following individuals for their encouragement, support and trust during the month of July 2011: James V. Allen, Sheila Pree Bright, Shoshone Odess Johnson, Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Dianna C. Long, Lavar Munroe, and Wanakee Pugh. 

No comments:

Post a Comment