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Curlee Raven Holton
August 25, 2014 - December 13, 2014
Prints, 1987 – 2013
Curated by Susan Ellis and Ricardo Viera
Curlee Raven Holton’s prints speak to our human experience and through the lens of his African American heritage, he brings voice to significant personal, political, and cultural events. Holton’s use of symbolism and provocative figurative representations engage viewers in a shared dialogue. This exhibition presents a diverse group of graphic work that spans Holton’s nearly 30-year career from the first lithograph he completed as a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art to his current etchings.
Holton strives to understand and find meaning in some of life’s most perplexing issues. Known for creating work that draws the viewer into important discussions, Holton challenges us to confront difficult topics as he provides opportunities for viewers to gain new understandings. Often, Holton makes specific references to real-world events such as in his first print, Whites Go on Trial for Chasing Black to his Death. Holton created the lithograph in 1987 as a response to the Howard Beach, New York, racially motivated attack of a young black man. About the work, Holton wrote, “I hoped to capture not only the racial terrorism of the event, but a fear that permeated our entire society, the fear of the other.” Holton’s work is persuasive but does not try to preach and instead serves as a means to deeply investigate difficult topics. This is art that makes you think and feel. Holton’s art takes you on a journey that is, at times, messy and complicated. Above all, Holton seeks to find the truth. Whether it is in his daily interactions with people, the issues of our time, or a personal artistic truth, Holton is continually searching for meaning.
His work is often motivated by personal events such as in the cut-plate etching, Shoot’em Up, created in1990 while completing a Fellowship at Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop in New York City. The subject refers to an incident that occurred when Holton and his young son were leaving their New York apartment. When his son began running around a parked car with a water pistol, Holton quickly grabbed him. “I was acutely aware of how young black children were being shot by policemen who believed they had real guns,” Holton recalled. The title of the print is a reference to the term Holton’s father used for the Western movies he enjoyed watching.
Also known for his paintings and drawings, it is fitting that Holton chose printmaking to express some of his most socially charged work. Printmaking has a rich history of political use because prints are produced in multiples and therefore can be dispensed to a wide audience. This democratic ideal can be seen in Holton’s etching, Slaughter/Slaughter, 1995, created in response to news reports of the massacre and execution of innocent civilians in Liberia. The print is reminiscent of the renowned Francisco Goya painting, May 3rd of 1808, which documents atrocities perpetrated by the French during their occupation of Spain. Holton observed, “This print is to remind us that this type of terrorism continues today, much as it did centuries ago.”
Holton is a teacher, artist, and scholar. He is the founding director of the Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) and the David M. and Linda Roth Professor of Art at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. where he teaches printmaking and African American art history. Holton also serves as the interim executive director of the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland. Holton’s work has been widely exhibited in prestigious national and international venues such as Egypt’s 7th International Biennale, Taller de arts Plasticas Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Holton’s work is held in many private and public collections.