Floyd Newsum's current show at Wade Wilson marks a major milestone in the Houston artist's decades-long career.
Not only is the exhibition a culmination of his four-year exploration of West African art, but it comes on the heels of the Smithsonian Institute's acquisition of his painting Sirigu, Janie's Apron for its forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens next to the Washington Monument in 2015.
Newsum spoke to CultureMap about his symbol-laden new material as well as his recent popularity among East Coast museums (the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Maryland's famed Driskell Center have purchased works as well).
"Symbols like the dog, the fish, the bird and the ladder have followed me since the '60s and yo u can see a lot of it in these recent pieces."
"My work always has dealt with a certain set of imagery," he said during the opening reception for his Wade Wilson exhibit.
"Symbols like the dog, the fish, the bird and the ladder have followed me since the '60s and you can see a lot of it in these recent pieces. While they have personal meaning to me, I don't wish to present them as holding a concrete narrative for the viewer.
"These are universal symbols used by cultures around the world. They have different meanings to different people."
Newsum motioned to the painting Sirigu Purple Rain, a cryptic tangle of colorful lines with a title pointing to artist's ongoing interest in the Ghanaian village of Sirigu as well as a not-so-veiled reference to the High Priest of Funk himself, Prince.
While Newsum touched upon his West African influences, he remained silent about the nod to pop superstar . . . who, let's face it, is a sort of "universal symbol" in his own right.
The new show comes on the heels of the Smithsonian Institute's acquisition of Newsum's painting Sirigu, Janie's Apron.
"I like layering and weaving elements together for the viewer, leaving them pieces to discover on their own," he said. "When you look around, you start to find things here and there. Sometimes you see old pictures of my family members buried into a piece, like a photo of an aunt on my father's side or a great-uncle."
The meaning of these more recognizable symbols and images, he stressed, are left to the viewer's imagination.
Moving to Blue Dog at Sunrise — a piece showing a simple dog-like shape on one side and another swirling mass of lines on the other — the artist turned to the importance of color.
"I think this idea of projecting strong and vibrant colors with a lot of energy has been essential to my work through the years," Newsum said. "That's the point for me, really, creating these thought-provoking environments of color that invoke a range of emotions."
Floyd Newsum will give a special gallery talk about his recent work on Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Wade Wilson Gallery (4411 Montrose), where his new show will run through Nov. 24. Click here for hours and additional information.