ARTIST CHAL­LENGES AND CON­FRONTS

NOT EV­ERY­ONE’S GO­ING TO LIKE DÁREECE WALKER’S IN-YOUR-FACE DRAW­INGS

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ray Mark Ri­naldi Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

“Force/Re­sis­tance” is the kind of au­da­cious art ex­hibit that can get a mu­seum in hot wa­ter. It doesn’t hold back for a sec­ond on its de­pic­tion of po­lice bru­tal­ity in Amer­ica, with graphic images of cops point­ing guns at kids’ heads, aim­ing bul­lets at in­no­cent moth­ers, pum­mel­ing and pulling the hair of sus­pects who have al­ready been re­strained. The ex­hibit’s cen­ter­piece, Dáreece Walker’s in-your-face draw­ings, im­part a bold hero­ism on those who strike back at law en­force­ment. In one work, a man sits in a lawn chair ca­su­ally smok­ing a ci­garette. Be­hind him a po­lice van

is a wreck in flames.

The scenes, cov­er­ing the walls of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Cen­ter, will feel fa­mil­iar to any­one who watches the news on ca­ble tele­vi­sion. The cops are face­less war­riors and their vic­tims, all of them, are black. They’re drawn loosely from re­cent sto­ries of race-re­lated vi­o­lence that have played out in ci­ties across the coun­try in the wake of deadly po­lice ac­tions against African-Amer­i­cans.

It’s a one-sided story for sure, the un­bri­dled pre­sen­ta­tion of a sin­gle artist’s per­sonal truth, and a young artist at that. Walker, who is from Colorado Springs, got his masters in fine arts just last year. But the work is raw, pow­er­ful and provoca­tive in mean­ing­ful ways. It’s also some­thing mu­seum cu­ra­tors tend to avoid — un­less they want to anger half their vis­i­tors, donors, board mem­bers and the peo­ple who give out pub­lic fund­ing. Oh, and maybe the lo­cal riot squad.

But the arts cen­ter plunges bravely ahead and does what mu­se­ums do best with this kind of ma­te­rial: It adds con­text. In this case, Walker’s draw­ings are paired with paint­ings by Floyd Tun­son, one of the most es­tab­lished and re­spected artists in the Springs these days.

Tun­son, who is a few gen­er­a­tions older than Walker, has been work­ing for years on pieces that touch on the same themes. His mul­ti­me­dia cre­ations cover a lot of sub­ject ar­eas — by no means is all of his work about race — but he’s not afraid to con­nect skin color and vi­o­lence in his vis­ceral and of­ten dis­turb­ing art.

Tun­son works in a va­ri­ety of me­dia — paint, pho­tog­ra­phy, sculp­ture and in­stal­la­tion, though he is well-known for a se­ries of por­traits he did in the 1990s that fea­ture, most no­tably, hy­per-close-up faces of young black males, some of them in­no­cent, wide-eyed ado­les­cents. The ti­tle of the se­ries, “En­dan­gered,” says a lot about the predica­ment of this par­tic­u­lar de­mo­graphic in the present-day United States. Sev­eral of the por­traits are in­cluded in “Force/Re­sis­tance.”

That fact that Tun­son made his pic­tures decades ago lends ex­tra cre­dence to the work of Walker. It’s a smart cu­ra­to­rial move that keeps view­ers from dis­miss­ing the younger artist as re­ac­tionary or alarmist, or as a sim­ple chron­i­cler of cur­rent events. Tun­son’s work lays both a his­tor­i­cal and art-his­tor­i­cal ground­work that places Walker in a line of se­ri­ous artists who have some­thing to say about the sub­ject.

Walker ben­e­fits in mul­ti­ple ways from the pair­ing. He is a new­comer, and his work is the kind that crit­ics and cu­ra­tors some­times (wrongly) fail to see. His acrylic-on-vinyl draw­ings here are straight-for­ward, comicin­flu­enced, and drip­ping in blood. They are di­rect and rep­re­sen­ta­tional in an era when ab­stract art rules the game. Un­framed and sim­ply tacked to the wall as they are at the arts cen­ter, they lack the pol­ish that would get Walker rep­re­sen­ta­tion at most gal­leries.

But they tell com­pelling sto­ries in the way many pub­lic mu­rals do, us­ing line and shadow rather than de­tail and color. They ap­pear sim­ple, but can be com­pli­cated in ways that are both sly and di­rect. One piece in the ex­hibit is a Diego Rivera-style nar­ra­tive ti­tled “Fer­gu­son to Bal­ti­more” that melds to­gether scenes of vi­o­lence across both time and ge­og­ra­phy. It is a whop­ping 25 feet long; in the cen­ter is a black male laid out in a cas­ket.

As for the mu­seum’s bold move, it comes at an in­ter­est­ing time. Last year, the fine arts cen­ter — a gem of an in­sti­tu­tion that served its com­mu­nity as an in­de­pen­dent, non­profit for 80 years — handed it­self over to its nextdoor neigh­bor Colorado Col­lege, which has its own art pro­gram. It was a des­per­ate move brought on by the fact that the cen­ter was deeply in debt. The merger saved it from ruin.

The change of own­er­ship was trum­peted as good man­age­ment, though it was sus­pect from the be­gin­ning. Colorado Springs suf­fers a se­vere short­age of vis­ual arts out­lets — it needs more cu­ra­to­rial vi­sions and voices, not fewer — and this re­ally meant one was go­ing away.

But this ex­hibit shows the up­side of let­ting an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion take the reigns. Col­leges are shielded from the ups and downs that cul­tural non­prof­its face and can push bound­aries. They don’t have to deal with the same kind of pres­sures from bene­fac­tors. They have a his­tory of shel­ter­ing provoca­tive ideas.

The fine arts cen­ter has al­ways been top-notch, schol­arly, ex­cel­lent in nearly ev­ery way. But it was not a place known for this kind of artis­tic fear­less­ness. Who could blame it, down there in con­ser­va­tive Colorado Springs?

The hand-over isn’t quite com­plete, but Re­becca Tucker, who teaches at Colorado Col­lege, as­sumed the role of mu­seum di­rec­tor in Septem­ber, and Jes­sica Hunter-Larsen, who cu­rated “Force/Re­sis­tance,” came on board “to de­velop in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to cu­rat­ing, and to build ed­u­ca­tional con­nec­tions be­tween the mu­seum, the com­mu­nity and the cam­pus,” as a press re­lease promised at the time.

So, es­sen­tially, the new guard is in charge and, ap­par­ently, it means busi­ness. “Force/Re­sis­tance” works to­ward all those am­bi­tious goals, and fast.

That’s good news for the mu­seum, for Colorado Springs, and for art in all of Colorado.

Images pro­vided by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Cen­ter

Dáreece Walker’s 2015 “Po­lice Cross Lines 4” (acrylic on vinyl, 38 by 54 inches) is part of the ex­hibit “Force/Re­sis­tance.”

Floyd Tun­son’s “En­dan­gered 8” (acrylic on can­vas, 60 by 48 inches) was painted in 1995.

“Po­lice Cross Lines 8” by Dáreece Walker is part of the ex­hibit “Force/Re­sis­tance” at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Cen­ter.

Dáreece Walker’s 2015 “Po­lice Cross Lines 4” re­counts cur­rent events in ur­ban Amer­ica (acrylic on vinyl, 38 by 54 inches).

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