Gary L. Lemons and Fanni Green
By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — On July 14, The Studio@620 relaunches their Social Justice Round-table series with a video presentation of REFLECTIONS, inspired by the paintings of Dr. Gary L. Lemons. Combining song, written word, and African drumming, the piece brings Lemons’ vibrant, African-inspired art to life.
Lemons has created a name that captures the entire body and theme of his work: MYAFRIKA-ART. Describing his work for the 2017 Carter G. Woodson exhibition, he wrote, “MYAFRIKA-ART offers insight into my own personal vision of creative spiritual transformation.”
He noted, “My artistic longing has always been to connect to my cultural history rooted in African principles of color, shape, patterns, and designs that are as old as the creative Spirit of humankind.”
Lemons’ use of vibrant colors in geometric designs create a quality of dynamic movement; the use of circles, curves, and angles renders paintings that feel both ancient and contemporary at once.
A self-described “abstractionist,” Lemons shared, “The boldness I bring together in my paintings—as an ‘African’ American artist—challenges viewers of my work to take a deeper look into that which I seek to represent.”
Lemons said that his desire is for viewer to experience the shapes, colors, and patterns of his work “in ways that speak to the liberating power of Black artistry.”
The idea to develop a theatrical presentation of his work came about when Lemons and his wife, actress, writer, and director Fanni Green, invited songstress Sharon Scott and 620’s artistic director Bob Devin Jones to lunch.
The afternoon spent sharing “(her)stories and (his)tories” led to the vision of creating a video performance based on the stunning visual energy of his paintings.
“I personally witnessed the visionary power of Black artists joining and communing together,” Lemons added. “That day, we felt the Spirit of art in the room.”
The project ultimately came together to weave the music created by Scott and master drummer Papa Malik Faye around five of Lemons’ paintings. Poetic expression by Jones and Studio@620 artist-in-residence Erica Sutherlin along with performances by Green round out the video presentation.
A professor of English at USF, Lemons has himself won acclaim for his writing, which melds the academic and theoretical, personal and cultural, critical and spiritual. In 2019, two of his books were published – “Building Womanist Coalitions: Writing and Teaching in the Spirit of Love” and “Hooked on the Art of Love: Bell Hooks and My Calling for Soul-Work.”
Other publications include “Black Male Outsider, a Memoir: Teaching as a Pro-Feminist Man” and “Womanist Forefathers, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois.”
As a multidisciplinary artist, Lemons explained, “I believe that art should inspire all individuals to connect to the creative gifts the Creator has given all of us—whether they be through our voices, our physical movement, our writing, and/or our hands — to envision that which lies beyond the limits of visual perception.”
And considering the current heightened awareness regarding violence committed on Black bodies, he noted, “Even in this contemporary moment of visual, racialized trauma, I maintain that in my paintings in REFLECTIONS, Black lives not only still matter, but are still artistically beautiful.”
His intention to spur his viewers to reach out outward and find universal connections are evident in his painting “Let Love Lead.” Multicolored hands decorated by buttons of various shapes extend across a blue-sky-world.
The use of buttons conjures something that feels familiar and historical — maybe harkening back to Lemons’ own childhood in Arkansas. Or, maybe reminding the viewer of something in their own personal herstory/history.
“Art should challenge us to see beyond the material world—opening us up to the place of imaginative realization. It is in this place we begin to see worlds of creative power we have never witnessed before,” Lemons shared.
Lemons continues to paint, teach, and write, balancing the demands of all three while firmly grounded in a gratitude and acknowledgment to a higher power
“Art allows us to be present in these new worlds where we can live in, love freely, and lavish joyfully in the creative inspiration of Divine calling” he mused. “Through the Creator’s gifts of imaginative power—our mind, body, and spirit unite in one to express the inexpressible across all our differences.”
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