By STEPHEN WOZNIAK May, 2023
"The craving for color is a natural necessity just as for water and fire. Color is a raw material indispensable to life. At every era of his existence and his history, the human being has associated color with his joys, his actions and his pleasures."
– Fernand Léger, On Monumentality and Color, 1943
“But when I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all. It can be quiet – and it contains the whole thing.”
– Louise Nevelson
There’s something intrinsically spirited and innocent about artist Alteronce Gumby. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's the default expression that lights up his smiling face, both quizzical and wondrous, like an adventuring kid who finds the surprise beauty and bounty of windblown wildflowers and later learns to defy gravity by skipping flat rocks across a roadside puddle – all on the same day. Perhaps, it’s rooted in Gumby’s adult exercise of discovery, something well developed in his rigorous and regular studio work as a painter. Either way, I greatly suspect he was born with it.
Gumby has been making immense, breathtaking wall works in New York City for over a decade. Though he walks along the extended path that winds around early Suprematists like Kazimir Malevich and midcentury American abstract greats like Reinhardt, Whitten, Pollock and Gilliam, Gumby has indeed created something new in his work out of something eternal in the history of high arts: color. It begets emotional living, it alerts our senses, it signals caution and care, it envelops life and death. Of course, color is so much more to Gumby – and all of us, too. As it greatly informs his life’s perspective and his bejeweled, luminous, galactic works, Gumby and motion picture director John Campbell have also made a forthcoming feature documentary about it entitled – you guessed it – Color.
Color the motion picture takes a look at the numerous artistic, cultural, natural and scientific aspects of what color means directly through Gumby’s life, art and first-person, tour-guide perspective. In it, the artist leads us around the world to popular public events that prize color within their important axes of celebration, including New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras street festival and the vibrant Hindu Holi festival in India, where participants pitch explosions of colored powders, all is forgiven and love is celebrated with abandon. Gumby and the team also spend time with top researchers at the Forbes Pigment Collection of Harvard University in Boston; play at the delightful, hands-on family theme park, The Crayola Experience, in Pennsylvania; talk with curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; explore the sparkling underwater depths of the Great Barrier Reef; enjoy the fragrant, polychromatic Moroccan spice markets and experience the incandescent sky phenomena known as the Northern Lights in Norway. In many ways, Color is a whirlwind, non-stop, action-adventure film that gives audiences the complete and phenomenal experience they need to enjoy what color brings to their lives. At the same time, it is rife with deeper meaning about how we have folded our fundamental response to color into cultural codes that – for better or worse – define our collective civil actions and give us many of life’s critical cues and clues.
After having shown his artwork in such cherished, blue-chip commercial venues as Hauser & Wirth and Gladstone Gallery in New York, Gumby is now set for his first institutional solo exhibition, Dark Matter, at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania. He feels that the work in the show acts as an analogy about the social value and reconfigured meanings of race and identity, while also alluding to his necessarily concurrent lifelong interest in space, the stars above and interplanetary travel. And you can see it in virtually every piece.
One wall work in this exhibit, We’re Not The Other, features two right-tilted rectangular panels covered in murky, mired, gray-green painted glass. The work is tightly packed with material, yet flickering, fuchsia negative spaces pepper the boards among some contrasting extra-dark shards, revealing life’s blood and pulsating light beneath what could be considered a somber, protective exterior of scaly, glossy armor. It shows me that – despite external appearances, perceptions and forces – there is a larger lively connection bubbling among us humans that remains inherently inclusive and abiding, which is beyond our nominal identities and divisive ways.
My Sweet Chariot is an exquisite example of the artist’s signature gentle, yet epic masterworks on display. It features thousands of shattered glass pieces fixed atop an amorphous, spacey splash of rainbow hues over a black background on two shifted, canted, everyday, plywood boards. It’s a gorgeous, glowing work that tells us it is merely a narrow piece to the glorious whole of the infinite cosmos, yet it reiterates all that the universe contains in the discrete, humble, human space allotted for it.
Another great piece that the artist created recently, exhibited last year at Nicola Vassell, is the modest-sized, square-formatted Infinite and Beyond (for Sam Gilliam). Drenched in super-saturated light lavenders, sea blues, beety blood reds and fiery pinks, the floating, epoxy-captured gemstones scattered throughout the piece break up the dominant central spread of shiny tar-like black fluid, which leaks out to the edges, cutting into and combining with color at every turn. While it proffers a nominal nod to the late, legendary, Black Color Field painter from Washington, D.C., it also presents a touching portion of in-kind, poetry-in-motion payback to Gilliam.
Along with this new show of significant works, Gumby’s corresponding Dark Matter museum exhibition catalog will be published. It includes a limited edition print, which is signed by the artist, titled Ruff Ryder. It’s interesting to note that, in addition to the forward written by the Allentown Art Museum’s president, the catalog includes a pertinent essay, The Universe Paints with Stars, Gumby Paints with Stardust, written by Dr. Stephon Alexander, who is not only a theoretical physicist at Brown University, but also a jazz musician, published author and cosmologist. His professional expertise and overlapping interests enable him to clearly see the wide, paramount views that Gumby alludes to in his works. After having thumbed through the catalog, I can see that it offers more than a little taste of the exhibition experience, featuring UV-activated images that echo the glint, glitter and shine of the artist’s works when viewed in person.
Gumby has said that his work acts to transport both him and his viewers to another place – perhaps one far way where we all can live without anger, aggression, mistrust and misunderstanding. I believe he’s recreating the fluid dynamics and high note harmonics of peace right here on Earth in his art, which already exist in the universe and that we are already a part but have just fallen out of favor from. Somewhere therein lies the hope, the awe and the innocent is-possible person of Alteronce Gumby. WM
To learn more about Alteronce Gumby and his art exhibitions, special events, publications and motions picture projects, read here:
A Solo Exhibition by Alteronce Gumby
Allentown Art Museum
31 North Fifth Street
Allentown, PA 18101
Telephone: +1 (610) 432-4333
Thursday - Sunday: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Third Thursday: 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Exhibition website: https://www.allentownartmuseum.org/exhibitions/alteronce-gumby-dark-matter/
A Documentary Feature Motion Picture
Artist website: www.alteroncegumby.com
Artist Instagram: @alteroncegumby
Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: Enterprise, NCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.view all articles from this author