Rico Gatson is a cultural producer. Long before other artists, his work embodied the pursuit of light and pushed the boundaries of modernity by building new structures for understanding and representing black bodies in contemporary dialogue and the art market. Each piece commands attention—the characteristic Africana colors draw the viewer in to further discover and investigate African American history. The colors, textures, subjects, and abstractions in Gatson’s work echo with celebrations of African American history and important icons. Odetta Holmes, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Tubman, Amiri Baraka, Nina Simone, Sun Ra, James Baldwin, and Barack Obama are a few of the dominant and instrumental figures in African American history, music, poetry, art, and political activism who appear in his work. Their embodiment rests on the edges of the frame, small, but bold, painted lines emanate from the icons as cosmic rays or halos. The harmony and unity in Gatson’s work empowers us to think of a brighter future, one that accepts and scrutinizes the past. Vigorous power lines—the meeting of two forces opposed to each other by their very nature, formally and conceptually—guide the viewer, and the potent imagery keeps him or her there to investigate deeper the sociopolitical content. The subtle layering and vibrancy in Gatson’s use of color and texture not only alters the way we think about sculpture and painting, but also how we process history and the present at the same time.
Research Article|May 01 2019
Silvi Naçi; Rico Gatson: Power Lines, Power Minds. Nka 1 May 2019; 2019 (44): 144–157. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-7547526
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