On the heels of Black History Month, The Huffington Post published a list called: 'Black Artists: 30 Contemporary Art Makers under 40 you should know.' As we all know, running a list of anything is a prescription for controversy: the arguments which follow are usually more destructive than the actual lists themselves -- who makes it, who didn't, why did he make it and not she? Who are these people who think they can determine who's who on any list, anyway?
So in a bid to maintain some semblance of sanity, we don't put much stock in lists. But we like this one, because this list of Black Contemporary Artists who, according to The Huffington Post, we should keep an eye on, is especially important as it includes Jamaican artists Ebony G Patterson and Paul Anthony Smith.
We also acknowledge the list because The Huffington Post is huge. Just last year it became the first commercially run United States digital media enterprise to win a Pulitzer Prize. In other words, it is as legitimate as a news outlet can get, and its audience is beyond massive.
Its arts coverage is extensive, yes, but it has mentioned both Ebony Patterson's and Paul Anthony Smith's work before in various blogs and reviews. So, we'll not think for a minute that this is some token effort to appease readers of colour and fulfil the editorial duty of Black History Month.
Patterson and Smith appear with 28 others who contribute "to the ongoing conversation of race and representation in contemporary art... through sculpture, photography, video or performance (illuminating) the complexity of the self with a unique and bold vision." In a list which includes young greats like Kehinde Wiley, Hank Willis Thomas and Awol Erizku, appear two (if there are more, please correct me) Jamaican visual artists. Another great move for dis ya rock.
Ebony is an assistant professor in painting at the University of Kentucky School of Art and Visual Studies. She graduated from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts with a degree in painting and has a master's degree in print making and drawing from Sam Fox College of Art and Design at Washington University in St Louis.
Her works in mixed media paintings, drawings, collages and installations show the masculine through the traditions of Jamaican dancehall culture. Her works address the body and its role in gender performance, self-imaging and idealised masculinity. Her current installation, The Observation (Bush Cockerel) at the National Gallery of Jamaica's 2012 National Biennale is a show-stopper. And Ebony herself is a show-stopper: tall, dramatic, energetic and articulate beyond words.
Paul Anthony Smith hails from St Ann, but grew up in Port Antonio and Miami, Florida. He received his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and now lives and works in Kansas City. He works in painting, collage, mixed media and ceramics to create portraits spanning different eras, races and artistic styles.
Many of his works obscure skin and faces until they resemble ceremonial masks. His work, as Huffington Post required for its list, tackles the subject of race with a ferocious curiosity, passion and vulnerability.
Naturally, the list is not without controversy, for the discussion which followed the article quickly disintegrated into matters of racial inequality: that an artist should be judged on their art and not their skin tone; that the powers that be further disenfranchise black artists by not promoting them as they would any other artist of the moment (Hirst, Wei Wei, Abramovic, et al) and by singling them out they instead exclude them from the mainstream art world.
I wish that the list would have included Mickalene Thomas, and our own Phillip Thomas, but there are many, many other names that could have been added to the list.
I'll leave that discussion alone for the moment and just revel in the fact that two Jamaican creative talents have appeared in an international list of young, up-and-coming artists who the world should keep their eyes on while they grow to greatness.
Congratulations, Ebony and Paul.