‘Black Art Legends’ event honors artist Robert Carter

NADINE MATTHEWS | 6/25/2015, 2:29 p.m.
What do you get the man who “has everything” for Father’s Day?
L to R: Frank Frazier, Paul Goodnight, James Denmark, Robert Carter, and Vanessa DeLuca Nadine Matthews

What do you get the man who “has everything” for Father’s Day? How about a chic party in his honor? Heather Carter, daughter of legendary artist Robert Carter, didn’t exactly come up with the “Black Art Legends” event as a Father’s Day gift, but it was perfectly timed to be just that.

Thursday June 18, art lovers came together at the greenhouse in the Scholastic building in Soho to honor some of the most famous icons of the Black art world, including Robert Carter, Frank Frazier, James Denmark and Paul Goodnight. Attendees were treated to a Q&A panel with the artists themselves, moderated by Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Vanessa DeLuca. The panel was followed by a reception set to the sounds of the Arts Jazz Collective.

Said Heather Carter, whose sister Holly and mom, Panchetta, were also in attendance, “The impetus was for me that it was the right time and it was necessary to elevate the visibility of the four artists and really celebrate their talents, and each of them has been doing their thing for over 50 years. Still, a lot of people don’t know their names and they should be household names. I felt it was important for me to do my part to bring attention to their talents.”

Frazier, a Vietnam War veteran whose work overtly channels Black American history of slavery and political resistance, seemed to be holding court. Seated against a backdrop of his own artwork and surrounded by admirers, his succinct reply to the question of what most motivated him was, “All my work is about what is going on socially today.” He also shared that he is currently working on a piece commissioned by the NAACP called “Justice.”

Denmark is a graduate of the prestigious Pratt Institute and was mentored early on in his art career by the great African-American art historian Dr. Samella Lewis. Denmark shared his definition of the Black artist. “I think the Black artist is a positive messenger to put in pictorial form, the things that many times the spoken word can’t bring to bear in the consciousness of the people as these events unfold. Some of the events are very tragic in nature, and people act out in anger. Anger translates into physical violence, but a lot of times an artist can portray something pictorially and it will last for generations, and it will tell a complete story because it comes from a creative force and it comes from a very powerful, spiritual source.”

As far as what usually inspires and motivates him, Denmark said, “I always look to the past, I always look to the African ancestors, to the creativity that they left.” Some of Denmark’s work is also part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Robert Carter, an art professor at Nassau Community College on Long Island, is noted for his whimsical and nostalgic 3-D installations, as well as his paintings. What has always inspired him are what he calls “social experiences, political experiences, economic experiences. Almost whatever you’re going through personally, what the community is going through, find their reflection in the work. You are what you eat, so you are what you are a part of.”