Join Patric McCoy, co-founder of Diasporal Rhythms, on a guided tour of his extraordinary art collection. Patric is a serious collector and cultural keeper of contemporary arts from the Diaspora. He shares his considerable knowledge with new and seasoned collectors in our three-part ‘lockdown’ video interview.
In the art world of multiethnic societies like the UK and USA, minority visual artists must seriously compete for the attention of the larger society’s media and arts institutions in order to be recognised for their artistic creations. Too often one or two minority artists are anointed by the cultural pundits (media, art institutions, cultural critics, museums, galleries, etc.) as being the hottest shit for the moment while the rest are left in oblivion. The communities from which these visual artists come, almost always, have not contributed to the promotion of those artists that are anointed or to those in the trash bin.
We do, however, see significant community promotion for musical artists, but less so for writers, playwrights, poets, dancers, etc. So there is a disconnect between the artists creating the visual images that will be recorded in the cultural history as somehow reflecting that community, and what that community actually responds to as creative/ important visual images.
My experience in America has been that some caucasian critic usually has to explain to me the concept of a visual image touted as the latest great art created by an African-American. Why? No one has to explain to me an Aretha Franklin moan, a James Brown grunt or a Louis Armstrong trumpet solo.
What I’ve found is that the visual arts institutions have never responded to visual artists directly but have always responded to collectors of visual arts. A museum is essentially an association of collectors – “a building we put up to house our collections of culturally important things after we have gone on to glory.” So with that insight, we formed an organisation of collectors of contemporary works by artists of African descent.
With Diasporal Rhythms, we have decided to be one of the initial voices identifying the important visual artists in our community (think first in Chicago, second, throughout the African Diaspora) and so, speaking on what is culturally important, significant, and current. We encourage others to form art collector organisations to promote the artistic expressions that they like too.
We have seen in the relatively short period since our incorporation that the art world actually pays great attention to collectors. They are falling all over us and we are just a little group of relatively small-time collectors. There are many larger collectors of art by artists of African descent in the Chicago area, but at the moment they are private and quiet and tend not to collect the works of living artists.
Living artists are the ones we want to promote; their works are basically what I and the other members of Diasporal Rhythms collect. Their works, in all their manifestations, reflect the world that I lived in and reflect all of the many ways people of colour have responded to it. The images are very important and need to be preserved. They are like the petroglyphs found in the middle of the Sahara desert: first, you know someone was there, then you know what they were thinking about and what was important, and finally, you know things change.
I was born in Chicago. The small B&W photo in the centre of this image was taken by me of the building (now razed to the ground) were I was born on East 63rd Street, which was the main road for Black Chicagoans post-World War II. I was delivered by my grandmother in our little two-room apartment. My mother went into labour as soon as she got up the stairs after dragging a Christmas tree home with my one-year-old brother in her arms. Taking this photo from the back of the EL train is ironic. The loud noise of the EL would have been one of the first sounds that I heard back then. They came every two minutes. I lived with that “roar” in the background for 12 years.
Our two-room apartment was filled with art, books and photographs. Both my parents were creative and loved to read. The oil painting called Jeannette is of my mother painted by my Father in 1952. She had designed and made the outfit, which he photographed her in and then painted her from the photograph. The painting to the right is by Jackson-Collins. I put it there to symbolize my origins from ancestors, two and three generations before who were forced to do back-breaking labour under an unforgiving sun.
The colour photo above my mother is by John Dowell (a Philadelphia based photographer, printmaker and musician. It is a view of downtown Chicago looking south at the juncture of the south and north branches of the Chicago River where another office went east to Lake Michigan. Those three branches of the River form the “Y” that is the official symbol of the City of Chicago.
This spot is significant. It forms the boundaries of a property once owned by Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. He was a Black man. Originally from Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), DuSable has been officially designated the founder of Chicago, finally. Interestingly, he left the city in a rush in 1800, selling everything that he owned. The “Americans” were coming into the territory, disrespecting the indigenous peoples, and bringing with them their racism and slaveholding.
Note that the White man -Kinzie – long purported to be the ‘founder’ of Chicago was the first slaveholder here and a murderer! Chicago was born of a gangster from the beginning! DuSable’s deed of sale recorded everything he had before being forced ‘to get out of town’, and it lists 23 paintings! I find that interesting to my original story (besides being Michael Jordan’s number 🤣), I’m a founder of a Black art collector organization in a city founded by a Black art collector!
I’m always asked by visitors to my home “how can you sleep in a room with that ‘man’ (ceramic torso by Woodrow Nash) looking at you?” Or “aren’t you afraid that you would wake up in the middle of the night and think someone was in your room?” The answer is No! I’m at peace in my bedroom with the art. I gave up “horror flicks” and TV shows decades ago, so I don’t have a lot of “jump up out at you” kind of images in my head. Could you sleep with this?
I didn’t realize until recently that since I brought home the Boxers by Skip Hill many years ago that I have unconsciously arranged things in pairs around the fireplace. The Boxers are my protectors! When I initially put them up, they were facing each other as in a fight. After a while, it just didn’t seem right to have two Black ‘power’ images in battle in my living room, so I turned them facing out. Now they are protecting 1. the piece above the fireplace called The Flag of Equality by Derrick Davis (son of Willis Bing Davis), 2. the wooden sculpture by Zambian artist, R. Nyrenda of the impoverished beggar and 3. on either side of the beggar are metal sculptures of Adam and Eve by Faheem Majeed. On the left bottom is a spinning top made by Douglas R. Ewart of successively larger vinyl discs with information and images about Malcolm X.
Top left is a metal sculpture by my younger brother, Anthony Gassaway (deceased) of a man’s face that’s painted purple in the shape of an “X “. Across from the top is a ceramic oval plate by the great, Willis Bing Davis that’s mounted on a custom-made metal stand by metal artist, Eric Nix. I pulled the two metal cyclists out front to clearly show them. The one on the left was made by an artist at a famous art school in Nigeria that has specialized in using recycled materials. On the right, there is by a self-taught artist from the West Side of Chicago, William Sproul. I’ve always been amazed at how similar the techniques though separated by several thousand miles!!
From a section of my Wall of Men, who do you see in this large painting? Write your answer in the comments below and put down the generation with which you identify. The answers should be very interesting. I bought this painting in Washington DC from an artist named Wasu aka Thomas Woodard. He was selling paintings on a sidewalk! Not an art fair or in a sidewalk sale with other vendors! Just an easel and a few images were laying on the grass. I asked him, “how much is this one?” It was one of a handful laying in the grass. The price was so reasonable, I immediately gave him $40, which was more than he asked. We talked, and he gave me the name of the painting.
The ANSWER! He said it was no one in particular and he called it, Man with Overcoat. I had assumed it was an image of Curtis Mayfield or maybe Marvin Gaye to my eye. But what I find from the people visiting my home is that they will say when they see it:
If they are older than me “that’s Miles Davis!”
If they are in my age group “that’s Curtis Mayfield!”
If they are a generation younger “that’s Samuel Jackson!”
Millennials will say “that’s Mos Def!”
And the teenagers will be hollering out the name of some current Rap/Tramp personality that I don’t have a clue who they mean! And can’t even remember what they say his name might be now. They are always adamant that this is an image of him! Which I find completely fascinating because whoever this current “Star” is, he wasn’t even born when this image was painted.
In the far eastern corner of my apartment (in the music and dance section) I have put together an altar to music. I have to thank Tracie Hall for making me see that I do put together sacred spaces for concepts that energize me! A Haitian sculpture of Papa Legba stands at the crossroads of all types of music. A bamboo flute, conch shell, trumpet, shakaree, and spinning hand drums! To the right is Preston Sampson’s pulp painting of the bass guitar player. There is an interesting story on how I acquired this painting that speaks to the high quality of ethical behaviour I experience in my interactions with artists (ex. Preston Sampson). But that story will have to wait until another day.
Above the guitarist is a piece by Najee Dorsey (co-founder of Black Art in America). She is another artist to be commended for the hard work they put in to promote our visual arts culture. Above that is a Paul Branton’s painting of a dancer enraptured in the music coming from the historic drum circle at the 63rd Street Beach as captured by the oil painting of Miguel Malagon.
To the left of Papa Legba is a stain glass piece by Malika of a gospel choir and below her work is a small painting of folks shouting in the church by Mark Richardson. Peter Gray’s Three Flutists sculptures made out of lead sheets are above Malika’s stain glass. Melvin Smith’s rusted pan face man sculpture sings an accompaniment to Dale Washington’s horn and saxophone players (both with orange backgrounds).
I like unique and creative art pieces. Paul S Benjamin’s collaged bowling ball (in the top centre of this image) is a perfect example. Every direction that you turn it, you will see different figures! Below it is a diorama within a cigar box of racial types/interactions by Charles Heppner. To the right is a ceramic teapot of a man with a rifle (protecting my countertop!) The hat comes off for putting in the tea and hot water and the brewed tea comes out of the rifle!
My neighbour, Karen Gill – jeweller, made the bone and ebony face on a silver pin that speaks to the faces on the painted hot sauce bottle to the far left. In front is a bronze sculpture by Preston Jackson (I consider him one of the most important contemporary sculptors.) It is a representation of pregnant enslaved African women forced to dig a hole in the ground to put her belly as she is beaten on her back! The look on her face says everything!
The dominant piece in my section on Sensualities, Spaces and Places is by Jonathan Green and is about human variations. In this series, he was examining symmetries within the human body. He was into weight lifting at the time. He noticed that super developed deltoid muscles on the back of a man replicated the protrusions of the breasts on the front of a woman. And if you looked at the symmetry from top to bottom, the deltoids and the arms mirror the buttocks and the legs! These ambiguities create a sensual tension. I will answer questions about any of these pieces in the comment section.
SILENCE = DEATH is a message to you all concerning today’s political, social and environmental situation. Those presented here include Malcolm X, Haitian revolutionary fighters, Yanga (first African liberator in the Americas), Paul Robeson, Harold Washington, Medgar Evers, Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton, Nat Turner, AfriCobra artists, and Gil Scott Heron. I’m happy to answer any question you may have about collecting Black Art in the comment section below. Leave me a message. I’ll reply.
Featured Image: A studio visit from renowned artist Jonathan Green (right) and art collector Patric McCoy (centre) means great conversations about art and the African American experience in art! Clay artist Liz LaRue (left) at the Hyde Park Art Center!
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