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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hoot and Holler

  • Author(s): Hawkins, Cynthia
  • et al.

My work straddles non-objectivist and abstractionist approaches to art production. Abstraction uses the real to interpret and reinterpret the known world, while a non-objective method refuses the real and instead uses the elements of art to make art, disregarding the actual.  This construct is similar to the relationship between popular, classical music, and jazz. Difference here is presented through these forms. Why is abstraction misunderstood and jazz so readily understood? I suggest that because African Americans invented jazz its non-objectivity and abstraction are taken for granted and abstraction is presumed a European construction  Abstraction in the visual and plastic arts is misrecognized as incomprehensible when in fact, abstraction in the visual is imbued with similar elements as jazz; elements such as call and response, movement,, and color create, and orchestrate a compositional whole that results in a musical composition or a two dimensional composition of color, lines, and shapes.

There continue to be few African American artists involved in abstraction because of its poor reception by multiple communities.  I assert that non-objective art was developed out of African motifs, (remember Picasso’s appropriation of African motifs for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?).  Aaron Douglas was the first American, and African American, to make use of African motifs. His work should be understood as non-objective in design and abstract in content. Earlier I stated that abstraction refers to the real, Douglas’ stylized figures were abstract, and his background geometric forms non-objective. Contemporary African American abstract/non-objective art’s historicism is grounded in the work of Aaron Douglas.

It has always been a penchant of mine to look at the particulars of what I see around me and reinterpret them. I use various scientific theories developed out of astrophysics, microbiology, space-time and mathematics. I wonder about cognitive science and how the eye interprets what we see; what do those signs and signifiers mean? Can the signs we take for granted be understood in some other way?

In my latest work, “The Butterfly House” and “Hoot and Holler,” I use natural forms. The forms lend themselves to becoming other than that which they are. Rocks have their own history and evolutionary processes; they make their way up to the surface by natural forces, or by human beings unearthing them. They are heavy, smooth, rough and bound, too, by gravity. Yet in the mind and hands of someone like me, rocks can fly through the air, through space. What is the color of a rock? Can the color of a rock that flies, leaving the earth’s orbit, change its nature, its color? In the hands and mind of some, that rock laden and buried attains agency, and with the help of an artist whose effort is to make something a little bit interesting opens a door to a new way of being, thinking and looking.

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