Titus Kaphar Takes On Ferguson, Takes Over Jack Shainman

What does Titus Kaphar think of the art world's response to Ferguson?


Artist Titus Kaphar, having been awarded a Creative Capital Award just this month, will occupy New York dealer Jack Shainman’s two Chelsea venues this week for the exhibitions “Drawing the Blinds” and “Asphalt & Chalk.”

The two-part show (January 15–February 21), which is Kaphar’s first solo with Shainman, caps a run of successes for the artist, who splits his time between New York and New Haven. Time magazine commissioned Kaphar late last year to create an artwork in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and he currently has a show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Since earning an MFA from Yale University, Kaphar has won a Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship and shown his work at venues including the Seattle Museum of Art and New York gallery Friedman Benda.

The painting that resulted from the Time commission, Yet Another Fight for Remembrance (2014), shows black men with their arms raised in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose that has been a trademark of demonstrations against police violence. (Ferguson protesters were runners-up for the magazine’s 2014 “Person of the Year.”)

The artist has partially obscured the young men with slashes of white paint. For Kaphar, the covering-up serves as a metaphor for the way news stories about such tragic events can all too quickly pass out of the news cycle. Not lost on the artist is the irony that police killings of unarmed black men (and even children) have hardly left the public eye: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others have been needlessly slain by police since Ferguson. “It’s no more than usual,” the artist told artnet. “This is every day.”

The Time commission arose when an art director for the magazine saw Kaphar’s show “The Jerome Project” at the Studio Museum (through March 8). That work came about after Kaphar did some research on his father, from whom he was separated as a young teen (he called the word separated “a euphemism” in our interview). His father has done time in prison, as have many other black men who share his father’s first and last name, Kaphar found. (Kaphar changed his own name to protect the privacy of his father and his namesakes, since, as he told artnet News, the consequences of a stint in prison often long outlast the sentence, a situation he doesn’t wish to exacerbate.)  The gold leaf that often adorns his backgrounds recalls devotional paintings; the title of the series refers not only to his father, but also to St. Jerome, for whom Kaphar’s father was named.

In addition to paintings that resulted from the Time commission, the Shainman show will include paintings that riff on traditional artistic styles, which Kaphar often re-creates only to then subject to drastic alterations. For example, he often cuts out figures from the canvases, leaving gaping holes. Such works might be read as a contemporary comment on omissions from traditional accounts of history, such as the neglected roles of women, Africans and African-Americans.

Kaphar was also willing to take some questions about lighter matters for artnet News’s video series for Instagram. Check out “Titus Kaphar Wore What?!

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