Floyd Newsum is having a moment. Right on the heels of being included in the inaugural show at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and having a solo show at the Houston Museum of African American Culture, he is having a one-man show at Nicole Longnecker Gallery. Newsum is also included in the currently touring “African American Art Since 1950: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center,” alongside such luminaries as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Alison and Betye Saar. The center is one of the most prestigious collections of African American artists in the country.
Newsum’s new paintings reflect the exuberance he seems to be feeling about his recognition and the fact that he will soon become a full-time artist after decades of teaching at the University of Houston—Downtown. Consequently, kites are ubiquitous in his new work; they hover and soar alongside ladders, both of which represent freedom and progress. The artist says the kite also symbolizes resilience and the ability to confront the turbulence of life and rise above it. Graphic marks swirl around the artist’s iconic vocabulary of symbols, which includes animals, houses, clouds and more elements too numerous to mention. The artist traces his roots back to Ghana in West Africa, and the region’s bright textiles, masks, and stylized human figures are an important influence as well. Many of these 15 pieces are acrylic and oil on paper with collage, which Newsum has favored for years. Most are large, like The Five Handed Kite (2016), which is about five-by-four feet. A kite dominates the composition, floating above what resembles a television. Surrounding them are the five outlined hands and other familiar Newsum images, such as a tic-tac-toe board, simply drawn houses with windows, and the artist’s often-used fish, ladders and snakes. There is abundant energy in Newsum’s gestural approach, and he is decidedly a modernist, utilizing a pictograph-like style that reveals little interest in three-dimensionality. These unique, expressive pieces reveal an experienced hand and effectively convey the spirited and generous personality of the artist.