Visual art can be a conduit of incredible positivity, an outlet for expressing immense hardship and grief or, at times, a combination of the two.
For his new solo show “Let The Color(ed) Out,” curated and presented online by The Red Arrow Gallery, Nashville sculptor Desmond Lewis utilized building materials in unconventional ways to convey a message about race in the U.S., simultaneously capturing its insidiousness and the perseverance of those whom it most affected. The pieces in the exhibition appear salvaged from the rubble of a construction site, with deceptively warped spotlights of color interwoven into structural blocks.
“Desmond Lewis is an artist who uses steel and concrete in his sculptures in an attempt to correlate the invisibility of structural steel within buildings with the concealed structural importance of African Americans in the United States,” the gallery explained in a release. “Within his work he creates fabricated and forged sculptures that abstractly address conversations surrounding race, equality and community.”
The brightly colored elements — as demonstrated by bright purple steel grafted to the outside of a darkly-colored concrete block in Trustin — appear to simultaneously highlight the vibrancy of unique color within the whole, as well as the luminance that has emerged even within the country’s most oppressive corners.
“In this new body of work, I am intentionally adding color in my sculptures, to show that despite the darkness of racial situations in the South, a sense of lightness and vibrancy can emerge,” Lewis said, according to Red Arrow Gallery. “This intentional addition is the result of personal stories and teachings from within my family.”
Living in downtown Nashville during the Jim Crow era, Desmond’s mother experienced an unequal society in which she was forced to use separate facilities from white people. Despite this inequality, she instilled a sense of positivity and perseverance in Lewis — bright perspective that is apparent in pieces like Trustin.
“She … prepared me to be strong as I search for the positive color in the racial situations that I encounter in a turbulent society that continues to dispel the humanness of black men,” per his statement. “Just because the physical walls of American society have destined black people to have a dark past, doesn’t mean that we can’t emerge and build a vibrantly colored future.”
Ultimately, the pieces in “Let The Color(ed) Out” convey this message seamlessly, through the combination of materials, use of color and brutal, raw approach to form. They are a testament to all those who have managed to find the positive, and expressive, within the most oppressive of circumstances.
Lewis received his master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Memphis. He has participating in residencies at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Skowhegan School of Painting, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and others. His work has been collected at the Carolina Bronze Sculpture Park, Vermont Carving and Sculpture Center, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and elsewhere.
The Red Arrow Gallery is located at 919 Gallatin Avenue, Suite #4, in East Nashville.