Steve Prince: Kitchen Talk
August 23 – October 18, 2019
Chapel Service | September 17, 11:00am – 12:00pm, Oxnam Chapel
Artist Talk | September 17, 12:00pm – 1:00pm, Dadian Gallery Foyer
This is a world made flesh. The lines in Steve Prince’s works strain and ripple like tensing muscles. Even the most quotidian objects—chairs, tables, bottles, umbrellas—are chiseled, carved, and gouged with the same forceful strokes as the ostensible subjects of these compositions. Every form seems to cling to its neighbor, like so many sinews stretched around a bone. The resulting works refuse easy distinctions between sacred and profane, insisting instead on an indelible, incarnational power that defies boundaries. It is a holiness that resides in the defiant toil and slog of survival, whether against prejudice, poverty, or even the elements themselves.
These are not easy works to look at.
There is an intentional claustrophobia which the artist carefully conjures not only in the individual compositions, but in the show in general. Under Prince’s hands, the white interstices along the gallery walls function like gutters in comic strips, offering only brief moments of release as we are pulled onwards and inwards into further works. There is abundant love here, inspired by the artist’s deep affection for the women in his family, and the earthy, ribald stories they passed down in his childhood home. But love is not simple and static, it must be teased and pulled to the surface, like the cornrows being strenuously plaited in Judges.
The motif of weaving and braiding runs like a skein through these works as a whole. In Sow, Prince portrays a mother stitching together a quilt, bedecked with vignettes from African American life, from celebratory images of musicians such as Marian Anderson and Louis Armstrong to reminders of dark chapters in America’s racist history, from the institution of Jim Crow laws to the struggles of school integration in Little Rock. “The quilt is representative of history,” reflects the artist. “Each piece of fabric carries the history of its past life, but also the creator takes a discarded piece and gives it another life. I was thinking about my mom, my grandmother and my great-grandmother and sister – generations of women who sewed – passing on a skill and the imagination to be able to survive and make a way out of no way.” History is not some detached affair to be footnoted in scholarly tomes, but rather material to be worked and reworked until its patterns become legible. Perhaps even beautiful in their sorrow.
Aaron Rosen, Director
Steve A. Prince | Artist & Educator
Artist Steve A. Prince is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and he currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia. Prince received his BFA from Xavier University of Louisiana and his MFA in Printmaking and Sculpture from Michigan State University. He is currently the Director of Engagement and Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary. He is represented by Zucot Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. Prince has created several public works including an 8’ x 8’ mixed media work titled Lemonade: A Picture of America at the College of William and Mary commemorating the first 3 African American resident students in 1967 at the college.
Prince received several honors for his art and scholarship including the 2010 Teacher of the Year for the City of Hampton. Prince has shown his art internationally in various solo, group, and juried exhibitions. Prince has participated in several residencies including the 2007 Partners of the Americas Artist in Residence in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Prince has lectured and conducted workshops in both secular and sacred settings internationally in a variety of media. Many of his hands-on workshops and community-based projects have culminated in the creation of permanent communal based artworks. He spreads a message of hope and renewal to the global community through the cathartic funerary tradition from New Orleans called the Dirge and Second Line. Prince has operated under the credo, “your imagination is your only limitation.”
Kitchen Talk: The Art of Steve Prince
Some of my fondest memories of growing up in New Orleans occurred in the kitchen. I can still smell the rich aromas that regularly filled our home from my mother’s cooking. I remember her robust laughter echoing through the house from the countless stories she told in the kitchen. My sisters, my aunts, and several of my mother’s female friends would file through the house each carrying a different story that would be deposited in the kitchen. Sometimes the stories would take a twist. I being the youngest, and oft times the only male in the mix, would be asked to leave the room because the story was for mature ears only. I would complain and exclaim that I could handle the story and beg to stay. My mother and the women in the kitchen were trying to protect my maturing mind from the gravity of the stories. They were not assured that I would not share the stories and potentially endanger the household. I would lurk nearby and listen.
Kitchen talk is a comprised of relief prints and drawings on paper. The images candidly look at the history of America through the lens of faith, family, race, gender, power, and love. Each image is laden with symbols and poly-narratives that soberly look into the past, while actively envisioning a more inclusive future. The art is uncompromising in its message to tell the truth and unearth the silence that many families harbor. Kitchen talk traverses the emotional terrain and reminds us of the space where mama fried the chicken, made the gumbo, pressed my sister’s hair, cleaned the greens, deposited the groceries, offered strategies to navigate the pitfalls in the community, encouraged civic action, taught us to speak truth to power, told us that God is in control, told us we can accomplish anything, chastised us if we underachieved, gave us Milk of Magnesia to stave off sickness, and chided us to not to bring home any babies. Kitchen talk is truth.