Featured image:(from left to right) Charly Palmer, Eileen Berger, and Michael Gibson.
Just Lookin’ Gallery Showcases Black American Artists
The Just Lookin’ Gallery in Hagerstown Maryland reflects the passion of Eileen Berger. She remembers exactly when her fascination with art started. “My father took me to a faculty art show at Howard University in the late 1960s. There was a piece that came off the wall and grabbed me. I wanted to know more about Black artists, but there was so little information available back then.” Her interest stuck with her as she followed a career in commercial photography. Her travels took her across the country, giving her the opportunity to attend street shows, meet Black artists, and develop her own expertise in art collecting.
The move to Hagerstown in the 1990s was a compromise with her husband to find a mix of country living within commuting distance of DC. It was only later that the idea of the gallery bloomed, encouraged by the stories she heard of how difficult it was for Black artists to get their work shown in galleries. Open since 1995, Just Lookin’ now represents dozens of Black American, African and West Indian artists. An art lover at heart, Berger’s ongoing goal for the gallery is to maintain a space “where the artists are respected.” She also notes that she wants to dispel the notion “that only rich people can collect art. I want people to feel comfortable with asking questions, even if it’s their first time in a gallery. I feel it’s my responsibility to pass along the knowledge I have about the art and the artists.”
The Observer asked Berger to recommend some artists who have been addressing the issues that have riveted our collective attention over the past year. The artists, along with a few of their recent works, are presented below. Select images to view at full size.
Palmer considers himself as documenting history, particularly that part of American history which is so often overlooked. Over his 25-year career, Palmer has focused on social, political, and often on African American historical subjects. He starts with the Middle passage and continues through slavery, the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, the Negro Sports League and musical history. His focus is not limited to the African American experience but also includes Native Americans and the Jewish Holocaust.
Palmer describes his art in a recent interview with Artwork Archive as having “always been about telling the story about being Black in America. It is the awareness of who I am. If you would pull works from 20 or 30 years ago of mine, you would see that it was still there. It’s altered, it’s changed, it’s become more subtle, but that story has always become part of the narrative.”
From top, clockwise: Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer, My Choice, Vote Any Way, Young Panthers.
Michael C. Gibson
Gibson’s drawings are often confused with photographs until the viewer looks more closely and discovers the blending and strokes that are his hallmark. He doesn’t think of himself strictly as a photorealist, believing what he leaves out is as important as what he chooses to express. Gibson says, “making art is how I cope and work through my thoughts, emotions, and connect with and encourage others. I hope that this work leads to constructive, open and honest dialogue about racism/white supremacy on local, national and global levels.”
The inverted flag threads through several of Gibson’s recent works. “Flying an American or any flag upside down is not always meant as political protest. It is considered to be international code and an official signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. In many ways I do think that is where we are now.” He says he created these works to symbolize “how people can see the problem of racism/white supremacy differently. One version of the flag for each month of the year. Every month will be my response to how black bodies are being treated. There are 36 names in the work that represent 45 lives. The fact is that I could easily produce thousands of flags. What about all the names that we don’t know throughout the history of America and the world? How many flags would those unknown names produce”?
From left, clockwise: Resistance, Cops Shot The Kid, Stand Up – Be Heard
Holder considers herself a storyteller and describes her art as “my visual language rooted in layering, painting, printmaking, digital image manipulation, and drawing. I pay a lot of attention to color, composition and forms. Many of my works begin with a composition that is based on carefully delineated silhouettes, shapes and forms. I use a distinct combination of techniques and tools for each series with the intention of expressing each concept with the most appropriate materials. I usually initiate a series with a specific theme and selection of media. I often include a material, technique or procedure that I am not familiar with.”
Her recent work highlights our dependence “on our first responders and healthcare workers to keep our society functioning during COVID. Yet many of these heroes, many of whom are people of color, do not receive adequate wages, healthcare, child care, benefits or pension plans.”
All images are part of the series: First Responders – We’re In It Together.
Born in Jamaica to parents who were also artists, Escoffrey has traveled extensively across North America, Europe and Asia. Both the human form and the American flag are prominent in many of Michael Escoffrey’s works. He remarks that “as a Jamaican-born American, the flag is very important to me. I like to paint people scantily or un-clothed to show their vulnerability.” His works also often hold up women as the symbol of courage and strength in the Black society. In “Purification” (below) Escoffrey presents the young woman as central to cleaning and purifying the American flag.
Left: Purified. Right: My County Too.
Detailed biographies of each artist and examples of their works for sale are presented on the Just Lookin’ Gallery website. The gallery is currently open regular hours every day except Monday, with pandemic restrictions, at 40 Summit Ave, Hagerstown, MD 21740. Phone: 301-714-2278.By Staff Contributor