Contemporary Gallery


From Backyard Clotheslines to Museum Walls

May 1–29, 2012

Opening reception

May 4 | 5:30-7:30p.m.
McGuffey Art Center

Curated by Andrea Douglas, Ph.D., Executive Director
Jefferson School African American Heritage Center


In the summer of 1967, Earl Gordon, Frank Walker and Gerald Mitchell mounted an exhibition of paintings and drawings in the Mitchell backyard. Inspired by folk artist Frances Brand, the boys, raised in families where art appreciation was the norm, received their first taste of what it meant to be professional artists. Their images pinned to clothesline stretched across the yard, earned them just over $23.

Upon graduation from high school these young men went on to study art, travel the world and in the case of Mitchell and Walker, they returned to Charlottesville to work as artists. In the African American community they were enigmas as few of their contemporaries chose such non-traditional paths.

From Backyard Clotheslines to Museum Walls considers work produced by Mitchell and Walker over the course of the last 20 years. Seemingly polar opposites in technique and temperament, one a lyrical abstractionist the other a realist, their works are related in their ontological examinations and their desire to expose the heroisms in what appears at first blush to be ordinary lives.

Toying with the principles of caricature, Walker’s portraits and figure studies capture those fleeting gestures or quirks that reveal the personalities of his subjects. Working largely from photographs, Walker’s practice of eliminating his sitter’s surroundings while highlighting particular aspects of their visage, forces the viewer to consider much more than the physicality of the person before them. Mitchell’s autobiographic collages and paintings depict his environment both natural and supernatural. His images range from densely layered mixed media collages populated by photographs and ephemera to more open, non-objective abstractions devoid of clear connections to the figurative. Coupled with the artist’s symbol lexica, they chronicle his thirty-years coming to terms with his debilitating illness.