Garbo Hearne has marked her 20 years in the gallery business with the publication of “Collaborations: Two Decades of African American Art, Hearne Fine Art 1988-2008” (Blue Lotus, cloth, $49.95), a coffee-table hardback featuring work by 58 African-American artists who’ve shown at Hearne Fine Art.
Hearne can take credit for introducing many, if not all, of these artists to Arkansas gallery-goers, a role that should earn her, and her husband, Dr. Archie Hearne, a place in history in the cultural education of our state. Hearne Fine Art has shown work of a caliber seen elsewhere in Arkansas only in public museums. The beloved Elizabeth Catlett, who has work in the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran and other notable venues, has shown at Hearne. Work by other nationally celebrated artists —Paul Goodnight, Benny Andrews, John Biggers, Samella Lewis, William Tolliver, Phoebe Beasley — has also been shown in Little Rock, thanks to Hearne. If you’ve never been to the gallery, “Collaborations” allows some catch-up.
Many would say that there is no such thing as “African-American art.” The humans depicted in the work at Hearne are African-American, and sometimes posed in what might be considered as stereotypical environments — picking cotton (“Rows of My Own,” W. Earl Robinson), integrating schools (“Young Strength,” Charly Palmer), protesting racism (“No Justice, No Peace,” Samella Lewis).
But Hearne’s decision to feature only work by African Americans was driven by a desire to fill a niche, she says in her foreword, to celebrate what has been locally underappreciated and offer customers work whose subject matter looks like them (though Hearne has plenty of white customers as well).
Flip through “Collaborations” to see the colorful and stylized “Sweet Grass Carrier” by Jonathan Green; the soft pointillist “Barefoot Dreams Revisited” by Brenda Joysmith; the knowing and neat portrait “Mrs. Charlotte Webb” by Mario Robinson; the “Lord’s Supper,” Laura James’ Ethiopian-Christian styled painting; the beautifully drawn charcoal “The Glance” by Leroy Allen. See work by Arkansans, from the self-taught (Sylvester McKissick, Euneda Otis) to the professional and living out of state (Kevin Cole, Larry Hampton). Arkansans Rex Delony, Hampton, Ariston Jacks, Albert Smith, Ernest Davidson, Euneda Otis, Susan Williams, Marjorie Williams-Smith and Ed Wade hold their own in “Collaborations.”
The unifying theme of “Collaborations” — that the work has been shown over the past 20 years at Hearne — is more about the gallery than the subject of African-American art itself. But the gallery has given us a good book to sit with and a good place to start from in thinking about artists we might not otherwise know.