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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Bad and the Beautiful

Art Review

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George Ray McCormick, Sr. has been on earth for 65 years. Apparently it gave him a goodly dose of hell and purgatory until he renounced living on the edge and reaffirmed his faith in 1991. A year later he began a new life that included making art, specifically dolls and various wood carvings. I first saw his work years ago at Walker’s PointCenter for Arts. This year he returned to the center to participate in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

  On May 28, a mini-retrospective of his efforts (“From the Secular to the Spiritual”) opens at The Charles Allis Art Museum. A modest catalog, rich with color images and an elegantly informative essay by Jeffrey R. Hayes, traces McCormick’s self-taught trek from chaos to contentment. It’s been a long trek, and the show’s many pieces of art reflect that, no more so than From the Darkness to the Light, a 2008 metal assemblage welded together from this and that.

  Should we compare his work to that of other self-taught artists such as Howard Finster and (locally) Prophet William Blackmon and Della Wells? Certainly the symbols are similar (angels, demons, and the problems of growing up black), but my feeling is that each artist takes his or her own route, and isn’t it true that we’re all composed of bits of this and that? Artists, like the rest of us, aren’t always able to succeed in making sense of the puzzle. It’s risky revealing your soul, particularly when that soul hangs in an art museum where expectations are often focused on the “pretty.” In many ways all art galleries become areas for those intent on performing art autopsies, and it’s a healthy event only if the viewers have sharp eyes and honed minds.

  Which would you rather view: gutsy work (provided it’s well constructed, consistent, and has something to say), or art that hides because the artist has nothing to say, or if they do, they don’t have a clue how to say it. You can strip it to the bone and there is still nothing there but fetid air.

  McCormick’s work is bold and unblinking, a hybrid of the bad and the beautiful. Will you turn away or try to identify with a black man’s message (much like desperate white hippies did in the ’60s). Don’t turn away and don’t try and “identify.” Face it head on from now until July 27.