In the artist statement written for Beverly Buchanan’s first solo exhibition in 1972 at New York’s Cinque Gallery— a space founded by artists Romare Bearden, Ernest Crichlow, and Norman Lewis—Buchanan states that her approach “involves the continuing problem of resolving the flat painting surface.” Embedded within this statement is the artist’s commitment to expanding her practice to create new surfaces, and forms that depict how closely art-making can bring us to feelings of life experiences.
While Buchanan is most known for her site-specific sculptures such as Marsh Ruins (1981) and assemblages, her interdisciplinary practice revisit the vernacular architectures of the American South, notably the shack, as a recurrent motif she rendered in both painting and sculpture for nearly forty years. Her artistic career began and was informed by works on paper, and on canvas that captured personal interpretations of urban architecture through color, space, and texture. Through journaling, note-taking, and correspondence with friends, family members, and other artists, we discover how intertwined drawing and painting are in responding to surrounding landscapes and become integral to her tridimensional works from rural shacks, legends, and environmental art. In reconstructing these makeshift structures—cabins, huts, small houses— from found and discarded materials, Buchanan re-envisioned these forms as spaces of recovery, memory and resilience. At the same time, her practice mined the histories embedded in the shack—in this case, the legacies of Jim Crow—asking us to consider the politics of a form that is familiar but nevertheless loaded. By-products of her peregrinations during her years in the Deep South, this selection of objects asserts her wide-ranging practice that re-imagines Black history as part of a permanent ecology of the land. In comparing the execution of her ideas to jazz composition, the artist reflects, “It is like starting out with a basic idea for a composition and finding out while you are improvising that you are creating a new kind of rhythm and you decide to follow that rhythm. Once you respond to this new rhythm, you can keep going or go back and incorporate some of the original stuff into this different pattern.”
Trained as a parasitologist at Columbia University in New York City (1968) and working as a health educator before turning to art in 1972, Beverly Buchanan: To Capture Something Closely Related to a Feeling explores the myriad ways the artist’s work improvises, creates, and returns upon emerging from her desire to capture how landscapes and dwellings feel. With works spanning nearly three decades, this presentation introduces some notable markers of Buchanan’s practice: ideas of endurance, home, memory, and belonging.
It is like starting out with a basic idea for a composition and finding out while you are improvising that you are creating a new kind of rhythm and you decide to follow that rhythm. Once you respond to this new rhythm, you can keep going or go back and incorporate some of the original stuff into this different pattern.