The color red has long embodied a paradoxical tension. It motivates yet cautions, loves yet rages and—all too often—marks both the giving of life and its mortal end. Despite its ubiquity red is, however, uniquely defined by its context. In this group exhibition, twelve artists working across mediums share their distinct interpretations and applications of the color. Liberating it from its often binary existence, RED resists popular tropes and invites deep reflection on how red shows up in an increasingly fluid world.
In certain works, red adds emotional layers and depth to both abstract and figurative portraits. Eleisha Faith McCorkle’sPower, 2019 depicts a red womb rendered in glass, neon, and handmade flowers. The work evokes both tenderness and strength—two characteristics often associated with motherhood—and its warm glow encourages viewers to linger and imagine the unseen woman behind the portrait. In Lina Puerta’s Untitled (Red), 2018, the artist embeds sequined fabric and lace within handmade paper in her portrait of a Latinx farmworker. The woman’s face peeks through a thick red veil that conjures a blanket of heat descending upon the field in summer. The eyes are the only recognizable feature of her obscured face, and they carry a quality of equal parts exhaustion and fortitude. In her four works on wood panel, Dana Robinson presents vibrant portraits that are arguably abstract despite the clear presence of a figure or figures. Drawn from her ongoing series Ebony Reprinted—which takes up advertisements from Ebony and Fashion Fair Magazines as source material—each transforms flat promotional photographs into more authentic portrayals of the complexities of Black subjecthood. Using thick, built-up strokes of acrylic paint, Robinson’s unique visual aesthetic subverts their subliminal indoctrination of upward mobility. Here, the use of red is borrowed from the original advert, and becomes an interesting commentary on how red operates in popular imagery as a sign of assumed power, from red power suits, to a bold red lip or cheek. Similarly, textile designer and photographer Anders Jones also presents a series of complexly layered portraits, each with a red halo backgrounding the figure of a Black woman drawn from vintage hair grooming ads. Here, red is used to focus on the agency and unique beauty of each woman, detaching her from the advertisements’ dangerous pedalling of commercialized and unattainable beauty standards.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, red emerges more subtly from the background as a call to action. In A River Flows Through Us, 2020, Joe Hayes, III presents a thick black canvas with the word POWER collaged atop acrylic and oil stick. Red and green serve as underlayers to the painting, peeping through the black only on its edges. The image is fractured by a white, river-like line that cuts across the surface, making a bold statement about the forces that challenge Black unity. Joseph A. Cuillier, III presents work from his Fold series, which abstracts symbolic photographs drawn from the archives of Black history to, “metaphorically obscure the identity of the individual in order to poetically reference the importance of collective action in Black liberation movements.” Pictured is Michael Brown Jr. who in 2014, at the age of 18, was slain by Ferguson police. His high school graduation photograph is folded to foreground the red stole draped around his neck and the red leatherbound diploma in his hands, symbolizing both the tragic loss of youth and the genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For others, red is a site of experimentation and becomes a material in and of itself. In Blood Moon, 2021, Alteronce Gumby builds a portal into an entirely red universe composed of red jasper gemstones and stained glass cast in resin. The work’s proportions produce the sense that we are viewing only one constellation of a larger galaxy, and Gumby experiments with tonal shifts to produce an otherworldly energy that can be both seen and felt. In his photograph,Untitled Red (Sam) 2018, Devin N. Morris presents a still life stacked with myriad red objects, each with their own texture, patina and tone. A red Nike shoebox, fake red flowers, and a red plastic tarp are all elements that anchor the scene, in which a faceless figure is pictured from behind, kneeling atop a red shag carpet. Seemingly monochromatic, the photograph achieves amazing depth through its layering of different qualities of red. Felipe Baeza also experiments with depth by playing with perception in his piece, Avistamiento Fantasmagórico 8, 2021, in which the ghost-like torso of a figure either breaks free from—or is consumed by—what appears to be a root system spanning a sea of rich, red soil. With both arms cast outwards, the viewer gets the sense of dynamic movement, however, can't discern whether the subject is falling through, rising from, or perhaps floating in a netherworld. These spatial and temporal experiments are also foregrounded in Leslie Hewitt’s, Riffs on Real Time with Ground (soft crimson with dimmer function), 2021, in which she presents, “an interplay of image, object and chromatic grounds that open up new opportunities of understanding the spatial or architectonic implications of each.” The soft aura of the black and white photograph juxtaposes the bold energetic tension produced between neighboring pink and brown grounds. Through their designed proximities, these elements expose perception as a biased construct, and invoke an imagined process whereby the viewer uses their power of perception to meld pink and brown to create a rich, Garnet red.
In the sculptural works of Soull Ogun and Jaishri Abichandani, red is used as a powerful narrative device and cultural anchor to ground the works. In Ogun’s Follicure, 2021, a small red bust is presented atop a winding, coil-like base composed of ruby, garnet, onyx, coral, glass and gold. The intimate scale of the work initially produces a sense of fragility that—upon further investigation—is quickly eclipsed by the viewer’s awareness of the immense strength and durability of the natural materials from which the work is comprised. The shape of the work is, “inspired by the curl pattern and growth properties of the 4C hair texture,” and its seemingly precarious bends and turns celebrate this hair type’s singular ability to “defy gravity.” In her sculptural painting, Mamma’s Heaven, 2021, Abichandani presents a striking portrait of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and her gender non-conforming child, Janak. The two are pictured deep in embrace, with Jayapal directly engaging the viewer as she grins from ear to ear. Here, the color red is used to uplift South Asian culture and aesthetic traditions; tell the story of a mother’s unconditional love for her child; and celebrate Jayapal’s translation of this familial love into something more universal through her fierce advocacy as a congresswoman. The work is part of Abichandani’s ongoing Jasmine Blooms At Night series, that visualizes the work of, “South Asian American feminists who are generating incredible social change on a local and international level.”
Broad in its investigation yet direct in its claims, RED surveys complex aesthetic, cultural and emotional landscapes with precision. Embracing the tension between the part and the whole—the individual and society—RED is as much about locating desire within ourselves, as it is surrendering to the power of color to imprint on our collective psyche and move us towards collective action. A debt of gratitude is owed to these twelve artists for daring to construct a world that is as loud as it is quiet, tangible as it is ephemeral, and meditative as it is incendiary.