The exhibition “Leo Twiggs in Fayetteville” recently opened at the Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery on Gillespie Street. An educator and a painter, self-discovery and anonymity are integral parts of artmaking for Twiggs. Visitors to the exhibit will readily see the power of art to inspire, delight and enlighten. This is a tall order when visiting an exhibition, but if time is taken to examine and spend time with the works and understand the background of Leo Twiggs, then visitors may experience a personal self-discovery. The exhibit runs through January 19, 2019.
Known as a pioneer in batik as a modern art form, Twiggs explores themes of race, African- American culture, politics, family relationships and personal history. Raised in South Carolina, the artist’s work reflects growing up in the 1960s to the present. The Confederate flag and other personal symbols show up in his work to expose truths about. growing up in the South.
Other symbols used by the artist include railroad crossings, shadowy figures, hats and patterned print dresses from his aunts and mother — all symbols of his experiences. You don’t have to be African-American to enjoy and understand his work; his images touch all races and all regions as they remind us of an ever-present past and cast hope for the future. For example, in reference to the images of the railroad crossings, Twiggs said, “We all have something to cross over.”
Visitors to the gallery will see two famous works from the “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” series. The whole series consists of nine paintings for the nine parishioners who lost their lives by the racially-motivated. murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. A horrifying event, the slayings were a national reminder of the ever-increasing number of mass murders of innocents in this country.
So how does an artist living in South Carolina visually interpret an event that inflicted so much pain on a group, a city, a state and the nation? Twiggs said, “The series of paintings are a testimony to the nine who were slain, but the works also represent the one shining moment people came together — not because of the color of their skin but because of the human-ness in their heart.” Go to www.youtube. com/watchv=LHF6zqCWhyk to view an interview with the artist about his “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” series.
People in the community should be aware of the significance of Leo Twiggs, a renowned artist with a national reputation, and take the time to visit the Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery to see a beautifully transcendent and spiritual exhibit. The North Carolina Arts Council understood his significance: the gallery was given a grant to bring an exhibit by the artist to Fayetteville. The gallery was one of two other local agencies that received financial support. The others were the Arts Council of Fayetteville/ Cumberland County and Cape Fear Regional Theatre.
Twiggs previously had a career in teaching at South Carolina State University, where he started the art department and was instrumental in opening and running the I. P. Stanback Museum. During an early part of his career, he began using the batik process — a traditional African method for decorating fabric using dye and wax.
Similar to encaustic painting, the use of wax in a work creates a different color effect than oil or acrylic painting. The color in batik is bright in places but can be obscured by wax. What the viewer experiences in. the work is a layered message obscured by wax, looming shapes, shifting colors and anonymity.
In batik painting, color “creeps” or bleeds into the fabric. Preventing color from staining the fabric, Twiggs uses wax to create lines that echo the properties of a resist. The resist lines are in direct contrast to the bleeding of colors across the surface of his work. One cannot help but respond to the tactility and somewhat “eeriness” of material, color, wax and Twiggs’ subject matter.
By the 1970s, Twiggs’ national attention resulted in several solo exhibitions in the Northeast, including New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem. He has been involved in many group exhibitions that included significant artists like Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.
In 2002 and 2008, Twiggs was selected to design an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. From 2004-2006, a retrospective of his works traveled among prominent museums in the South. He was the first person to receive, as an individual, South Carolina’s highest art award, the Elizabeth O’Neil Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts.
This year, the Gibbes Museum of Art announced Leo Twiggs in this year’s Society 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art Winner. He was selected from more than 247 artists across the South and is the first artist from South Carolina to earn the award.
After visiting the exhibition, people might be interested in purchasing the 316-page book about Twiggs titled “Messages from Home: The Art of Leo Twiggs,” which won the Next Generation Finalist Indie Book Award. Claflin University Press publishes the book, and signed copies may still be available.
I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation and acknowledge the Ellington- White Contemporary Gallery for bringing the exhibition “Leo Twiggs in Fayetteville” for our community and the region to enjoy. Although the artist’s presentations at Fayetteville State University’s Rosenthal Gallery and the Pate Room at the Cumberland County Library have passed, the exhibit will remain at the gallery until Jan. 19, 2019.
Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery is located on 113 Gillespie St in downtown Fayetteville. The gallery is free. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Group tours with a presentation can be arranged at no charge. For more information, call the gallery at 910-483-1388 or visit www.ellington-white.com.