CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Artist Patrick Earl Hammie’s latest work is a mixture of joy and horror.
It combines drawings of dancers and artists from the television dance show “Soul Train” which celebrates black excellence with images of 19th and 20th century lynch mobs. Hammie’s work is featured in a solo exhibition titled “I Am… a Legend,” at the Freeport Art Museum through February 12.
Hammie is a professor of painting and sculpture and chair of the studio arts program at the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He specializes in portraiture and is interested in storytelling, the body in visual culture and black experiences.
“I Am… Legend” presents 10 printed digital drawings that Hammie made from images of “Soul Train”, placed against painted wall installations. The paintings covering the gallery walls are huge, light gray silhouettes of figures taken from photographs of lynchers. The “Soul Train” designs are displayed above the murals.
“The silhouettes loom in the space, seemingly like shadows from the past,” Hammie said.
Visitors are part of the crowd in different ways – both the dancing crowd in “Soul Train” footage and the lynch mob crowd, Hammie said.
He also pasted a picture of Rorschach from the photos of the lynching mob and painted it on one of the gallery walls.
The exhibit examines the history of racialized terrorism using an ethno-Gothic lens to consider “fear of the other”. He also asks how collective experiences can foster empathy.
“It’s all a big study, trying to find ways to pull together images of ‘Soul Train’ and crowd silhouettes from lynching photographs and talk about their correlations and connections. If we love Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight or the Staple Singers, but are oblivious or in solidarity with the consequences and legacies of the lynchings, how do we reconcile that with future Marvin Gayes and Tina Turners who might be torn from this world because What uncontrolled self-defense and biased police? Hammie said.
His previous project “Birth Throes” explored the experiences of black American families through the stories of his own family. He ended this project by reflecting on a painting of his parents on their wedding day in 1976. Hammie said the painting created an opportunity to imagine dark joy, and he wanted to revisit the 1970s and the celebration of “Soul”. Train “, which began to be broadcast. a decade before his birth.
“’Soul Train’ has transported you to the glitter and suede of this speculative black space,” he said.
The events of the past year and a half have also made Hammie think of horror.
“Horror, in a time of heightened horror, like now, is less about spectacle and more about talking about things. Artists of color use horror critically to reach American realities,” as in the new movie “Candyman”, he said.
Hammie said he viewed both the lynchings carried out by some white Americans and the “Soul Train” as forms of the “family friendly” American pastime.
“What both spaces were selling were speculative futures. Soul Train envisioned a place of safety and celebration that seemed necessary after the deaths of so many progressive leaders and the tumult of the 1960s. Lynchings were places of value reinforcement. They were working for their preferred future, striving for what they believed was the best situation for them and their children, ”he said.
The title of the exhibition refers to the phrase “I am a man” used in civil rights protests to declare the humanity of black people, as well as Richard Matheson’s book “I am a legend”, a post-apocalyptic vampire story.
Hammie worked with artist and psychologist Kamau Grantham and Illinois artist and graphic design professor Stacey Robinson, both also DJs, to create a playlist on Spotify to accompany the show.
Prior to his invitation for a solo show of Hammie, the Freeport Art Museum asked him to help in his efforts to improve community engagement and better represent people of color. Hammie and the museum co-authored the BIPOC Initiative to support five years of exhibitions by artists of various races. The museum chose Hammie as the first artist for the initiative, and it chose a second artist who also has a solo show at the museum alongside Hammie’s exhibit. Each guest artist chooses a different artist for the next exhibition, which is an important part of the initiative, Hammie said.
“When artists of color reach a certain level, their work is compared to the predominantly white canon. But artists of color are interested in speaking with other artists of color, ”he said.
The exhibits “open up more space for the community to reflect and feel more welcome,” Hammie said.
Each exhibition also has a community engagement component. Hammie did workshops with high school students.