Sandra McCollum April 30, 2016
George Crump is an artist whose oeuvre expresses his social and political views in a visual chronicle of the collective experiences of African American people. Oddly, these statements are often so profound that initially one becomes immersed in the personal narrative of George Crump’s political expressions, and does not focus on the earth tone colors and the stylized shapes commonly found on his canvasses.
According to the artist, each painting begins with a statement. It is only after the idea is crystalized that he infuses color into the message. Each work of art invites the viewer to share in the story, to find the intended message, and to expand upon it. It is through stimulating dialogue of the artist’s intent and the viewer’s interpretation that true significance of the artwork can be appreciated.
While visiting with Mr. Crump, we viewed and discussed numerous works of art. The following descriptions are Hallmarks of George Crump’s artistry.
FORTY ACRES REVISITED
This is a painting of a rocking horse with an unpainted hand attached to the saddle. There is a square object with a hole in the center distanced so far away from the rocking horse it almost appears to tell its own story. This art work is symbolic of the broken promise of 40 acres and a mule conceived as a form of reparation to be issued to all freed slaves. The hole within the acre is indicative of the flawed pledge. The image of a rocking horse is a toy, a representation of an item only useful or comforting to the puerile. The unpainted hand will become animated with color when the promise is kept. The artist’s intent is clearly noted as the beholder of the artwork becomes involved in the dialogue of broken promises. The viewer is at once captivated by the imagery and the metaphor of being cast aside when one’s usefulness is spent like an old rocking horse. Are we the descendants, arrested in that space of innocence and expectancy, still lamenting the unfulfilled promises of acceptance and equality?
The title of this painting evokes troubled memories of the destructive Hurricane Katrina. In contrast, the scene displayed on the canvas is calm and peaceful. The even tone of the blue water has only a small ripple throughout its expansive space to give any indication of the turmoil of the actual event. The artist achieved this consistency with a brush, although it appears to be the work of a palette knife. The three anthropomorphic figures painted in the brown tones of African Americans are identical with the exception of female breast affixed on the central figure. Each is nude from the waist up. One figure is reclining on a mattress, reminiscent of many desperate Katrina victims who unwittingly floated on vulnerable mattresses, until they were overturned or sunken by its water logged weight. Although the female is the middle figure in the painting, she is guiding a male who is in front, and she is pulling the mattress with the reclining male figure. She is central to the theme both figuratively and in the reality of her placement on the canvas.
This painting features several of the familiar stylized human figures riding a bus sitting next to one another on a long seat. Each is engaged in various activities which precludes conversation with one another. What is the artist’s statement? Have we as a society become so jaded in our attempts to conform, we are afraid to engage in human interaction? Are we comfortable in our own isolation?
This painting deviates from the more literal figures of many of Mr. Crump’s paintings and creates a metaphor within a metaphor. The title, manumission is a term meaning the act of a slave holder freeing his or her slaves. We, the viewers, become transfixed looking at a transparent rectangular box containing a tree which cannot bear leaves because of its confinement. There are seams along the edges of the box where some of the branches of the tree have managed to emerge from its imprisoned state. Once free the lifeless tree sprouts leaves allowing it to luxuriate in all that freedom promises.
Mr. Crump’s works of art are not without humor. The artist has a friend named Sydney who has a lot of children. He can never find the solitude he desires unless he goes into the bathroom. This colorful painting finds his friend Sydney perched upon his royal throne, the only place where he reigns supreme. He is seated on a closed toilet seat using it as a stool as he peacefully reads a book in a beautiful light green bathroom. Sydney is dressed in shocking red pajamas which contrast quite nicely with the soft tones of the green bathroom. A red Cardinal is perched in the room staring a Sydney. He and Sydney are both in the same vivid red. Even in his peaceful place he is disturbed by this beautiful cardinal, a universal symbol of love and relationships, intruding into his inner space.
For those of you who missed this artist studio visit and a wonderful experience, it is hoped that this synopsis whets your imagination and encourages you to attend next time.