African-American artist brings unique perspective to gallery

Matthew Strother

July 24, 2014

Art is an interpretation of a person’s point of view, experience and ideals, according to an artist whose work is currently on display downtown.

The Cochran Gallery in downtown LaGrange is hosting an exhibit of works by Curlee Raven Holton, an artist and professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania who is director for the university’s Experimental Printmaking Institute.

Holton and gallery owner Wesley Cochran have been friends since they met in Atlanta at the National Black Arts Festival about six years ago. They share an interest in African-American art history, and its cultural practices and expression.

Holton created the selection of about 20 pieces on exhibit between 1997 to 2013. They have a prevailing theme that ties into the title of the exhibit – “In the Shadow of Contemplation.”

The theme is about “an interest in reflection and thoughtfulness about making art, and also the subject. I am very interested in the narrative aspect of art-making to tell a story,” Holton said. “I think that telling my story or someone else’s story is a way to express a sense of value, inheritance, morality – so the work is both a narrative and assertion of something. “

Holton said his pieces also contain elements of social commentary. He gave an example with one of the works in the exhibit, “Drawing on a Landscape,” which shows a hand drawing on paper over a landscape, a horseman on the opposite side, representing the conquering of the landscape, and wound in the canvas, meant to show how the land is wounded by man’s desire to dominate it.

“So it has a philosophical aspect of it,” Holton said. “As an African-American, that cultural experience and perspective, in many ways, gives color, so to speak, to the language, gives perspective to the language and the mystery of life.”

Holton said he’d read about Cochran and his collection and popularity of exhibitions over the years. Cochran had a collection of pieces by Robert Blackburn, a teacher of Holton’s, and Will Barnett, who was a friend of Blackburn and “a magnificent American artist.”

“So, Wes Cochran’s reputation preceded him by his passionate collection and how comprehensive his collection was,” Holton said.

They met and their mutual appreciation for African-American art and prints, and Cochran has since brought Holton to LaGrange on several occasions, where he has had shows at LaGrange Art Museum and LaGrange College, where he also lectured. He also did an artist in residency with Cochran at his butterfly house.

Holton said Cochran brings a great cultural diversity to the artistic landscape in LaGrange.

Cochran said he and his wife Missy, a retired teacher, have been collecting art for 40 years. He said Holton’s notoriety in print drew him to Holton because he “was known as a tremendous print maker.” Holton founded the experimental printmaking institute at Lafayette College in 1996.

Holton is also taking about 30 pieces of artwork by Blackburn from Cochran’s collection for an exhibit he is setting up. Cochran said he hopes the exhibit of Holton’s work in LaGrange will help provide something educational and unique to the local arts scene.

“Hopefully this will give LaGrange an opportunity to see a beautiful art show by a very good African-American artist working here in the United States,” Cochran said of the exhibit.

The exhibit opened Wednesday and will be on display until Sept. 27. The exhibit is free and open to the public at Cochran Gallery, 4 E. Lafayette Square, which is open Wednesday to Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.