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Ackland showcases two contemporary artists

"Escape," by American artist Felrath Hines, is part of an exhibit at the Ackland Art Museum. Courtesy of the Ackland Art Museum.
"Escape," by American artist Felrath Hines, is part of an exhibit at the Ackland Art Museum. Courtesy of the Ackland Art Museum.

One exhibit takes you through the life of abolitionist John Brown. The other takes you on a journey through the depths of color and shapes.

Works from Jacob Lawrence and Felrath Hines, contemporary artists influential in the black art community in the 20th century, are on display now in the Ackland Art Museum today through May 9.

Jacob Lawrence

Lawrence’s display shows his take on Brown, the abolitionist most famous for his raid of Harpers Ferry.

Lawrence, regarded as a seminal black artist of the 20th century, portrays this series in his traditional style, characterized by bright fields of colors and recurring silhouettes, said Carolyn Allmendinger, director of academic programs and curator of this exhibit.

Lawrence first made a series of paintings about Brown in the 1940s, but when a museum wished to borrow them in the 1970s, the pictures were determined to be too fragile to travel. To allow more people to see the works, Lawrence translated the originals into a series of 22 silk screen prints produced in limited quantity.

The exhibit will also be paired with several public performances in the next few months, Allmendinger said.

“The story is still really an interesting one,” she said of Brown’s controversial history. “I think it’s going to raise some important questions that are meaningful whether you are studying it for history, for 20th century art history or thinking about larger kinds of moral and ethical issues.”

Felrath Hines

In the next room, viewers can peruse Hines’ exploration of the relationship between colors and forms, in paintings ranging from layers of vibrant hues to subtly contrasting shades.

“Ultimately it’s a show about color balance,” said Emily Kass, director of the Ackland and curator of the exhibit.

She said Hines’ work often explores ideas about space and optical illusions.

Hines was an art conservator by profession, and his time studying others’ works is obvious from his paintings, Kass said.

In many of his paintings, he plays with the intersections of different colors, drawing a slim line in pencil or including a sliver of white.

“Much of the fun of looking at these paintings is to really examine how he made the transitions between colors,” Kass said.

Early last year, Hines’ widow, Dorothy Fisher, donated some of his works to museums that had supported Hines during his lifetime. The Ackland was one such museum.

This display includes the last painting he completed, “Aquatic Adventures.”

The exhibit is a collaboration between the Ackland, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and North Carolina Central University’s Art Museum. It will rotate through the three museums.

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