GREENSBORO, NC - The burgeoning career of locally renowned North Carolina artist James C. McMillan takes center stage with two major exhibitions in Greensboro, NC, covering a prolific 60 years in art. Both are free to the public and open simultaneously at the African American Atelier Inc., 200 N. Davie Street. Gallery hours are Tues-Sat, 10am-5pm, Wed 10am-7pm, and Sun 2-5pm; and Bennett College, Steele Hall Art Gallery, 900 E. Washington Street. Gallery hours are Tues-Fri, 10am-4pm, Sat 11am-2pm. These exhibitions follow the artist's acclaimed west coast debut at the Bakersfield
Museum of Art in California in 2009.
An art prodigy, McMillan attended Howard University at 15 years of age and was graduated with a BA in fine arts, accepted as the first African American student at the noted Skowhegan School of Art in Maine, and later studied at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris, France. He achieved eminence as an art professor and chair of both art departments at Bennett College and Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. McMillan is like many African American artists born in the early 20th century whose work has been largely undiscovered. Now at age 85, he is being recognized and brought to national attention by virtue of this retrospective.
The noted economist and President of Bennett College, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, states, "That universal theme of individual tragedy, loss, and revitalized hope is manifested in the brilliant art of a man with a special vision. By taking time to discover this overlooked master artist, we offer hope that other exceptional black artists, now lost to history, may someday be found."
McMillan's works explore a variety of media, artistic movements, and styles that defy simple categorization and serve as an emotional archaeology of the universal human condition: dehumanization, loss and renewal. Painting, drawing, traditional and abstract sculpture and printmaking will be featured, representing an oeuvre ranging from the 1940s to the present. A recently completed large-scale surrealist-style oil painting, Contemporary Precipice/60s Symbols (2011) will be on view for the first time.
The exhibitions are co-organized by Dr. Alma S. Adams, Co-founder and curator of The African American Atelier, Inc., and Professor of Art and Gallery Director, Bennett College, Greensboro, NC, and Charlotte Sherman, Director, Heritage Art Gallery, Pacific Palisades, CA.
Numerous early architectural studies and nudes in ink, charcoal, and conte crayon drawings on paper complete the retrospective and are featured mainly at the Bennett College Art Gallery, including a Paris series from the 1950s.
On view at the African American Atelier, Inc., Loss and Redemption is an expanded version of the 2009 west coast premiere. This exhibition captures McMillan's meticulous attention to the human figure as a collective, intellectual humanity. A signature oil painting, Four Dream Builders (2001), projects a redeeming future with civil rights in the visionary guises of four North Carolina college students who challenged segregation at a Woolworth's lunch counter. Humanity is isolated, entrapped by a webbed force field in the ink drawing Contemporary Cubicle (1968), inspired by the use of technologically advanced systems for restraining laboratory animals and a work the artist describes as "a study of racial suppression."
McMillan's experiments with metaphorical abstraction are evident in Holocaust/ Apartheid (1957). A postmodern driftwood sculpture, IO Bird (1991), representative of
McMillan's most recent direction using weathered, found materials, suggests a natural world under assault. The works on paper, Elegance and Line, at Bennett College, demonstrate McMillan's deft use of materials like felt marker, crayon, and newspaper.
McMillan has incorporated the techniques of classical masters Da Vinci and Michelangelo; the strategies and philosophies of Cezanne, Brancusi, and Picasso; the lengthy nudes of Modigliani; and the astute dexterity of Pollock and some of today's contemporary artists to create imagery that maps the emotional geography of human cruelty, indifference, and perseverance over adversity. He calls his works "emotional reactions" to experiences he felt compelled to address as a life-long artist and humanist, such as the Vietnam War and other international conditions.