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Melvin Van Peebles at the gallery

Ron Scott | 11/7/2013, 3:37 p.m.
Oil painting by George Helton Ron Scott photo

You have to make a move right now. Today (Thursday) is your last day to see “eMerge 2.0: Melvin Van Peebles & Artists on the Cusp.” The exhibit is located at Strivers Gardens Gallery (300 W. 135th St., off St. Nicholas Avenue). The exhibition is free.

Melvin Van Peebles, writer, novelist, actor, playwright, filmmaker and director, has one of his original paintings in the show, “Ex-Voto Monochrome (A Ghetto Mother’s Prayer).” As he noted during a recent interview, he was more interested in featuring the rare paintings of George Helton, deceased husband of the late Isabel Taylor Helton, designer of Van Peebles’ museum-styled Manhattan apartment, which is so unique it deserves its own exhibition of his paintings, illustrations and sculptures that he’s completed over the years. He also became involved to support all the young artists who contributed to this exhibit. “The young artists did a wonderful job, and we should support these things,” said Van Peebles.

The participating artists include Joseph Cavalieri, JaSon E. Auguste, Greg Frederick, Laura Gadson, Josh Goldstein, George Helton, David Hollier, Clara K. Johnson, Kimberly Mayhorn, Beau McCall, Melvin Van Peebles, Andre Woolery and Misra Walker (from the House of Spoof Collective). These visual artists represent the future of contemporary art. Like jazz musicians, they are improvising and working in the moment. These 11 young artists have creatively used everyday objects such as thumbtacks, clothing buttons and vinyl records to tell their own stories.

Van Peebles’ “A Ghetto Mother’s Prayer” is a mixed– media meditation exploring the intersection of violence, economic disenfranchisement, womanhood and faith. The multitalented artist states, “Prayers are rarely answered in the ghetto.” The wings attached to the painting frame offer hope that the prayers will be delivered and the child will survive the ghetto. Van Peebles notes, “The red cloth strip represents blood,” which demonstrates life will not be easy.

“It is such an inspiration for me to be involved in the same show with such a wise elder as Mr. Van Peebles,” stated Auguste. “The other artists also keep inspiring me to do more.” Auguste’s exhibit piece is titled “I am ancient, I am modern, I tune in,” made with vinyl records.

“I hope people get in the habit of buying these paintings, but it is really encouraging,” says Van Peebles. “I am just an accidental arrival, but it works out just fine.”

Van Peebles led the charge of the Black revolutionary film movement with his now legendary 1971 blaxploitation film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” On Broadway, he made hits with “Ain’t Suppose to Die a Natural Death” and “Don’t Play Us Cheap.” On Wall Street, he had a chair on the New York Stock Exchange. While in Paris, he wrote novels and film scripts and translated publications like Mad magazine into French. While living in San Francisco, he wrote his first book, “The Big Heart,” about his experiences driving a cable car.

He says his jazz band Melvin Van Peebles and the Laxatives will be performing in the next month or so.” “We call it the Laxatives because we make s— happen.” His recording of “Br’er Rabbit” over music became his first introduction to rap music.

“Things happen differently. Sometimes I am humming and then I say, it’s not a painting, it’s a song,” said Van Peebles. “You have to be flexible.”

This exhibit is presented by Souleo, a journalist who is quickly earning a reputation as one of the creative producers of artistic projects in Harlem. He is bringing art and introducing the artists to the people.

“We are very excited to once again produce this platform for emerging artists to gain access to new audiences and greater opportunities,” said Souleo, founder and president of Souleo Enterprises, LLC.

For further details, visit http://striversgardensgallery.vpweb.com or www.souleouniverse.com.