Maybe if I were black and had decided to stake out an art career in a bastion of the overly genteel, "we don't have a problem with our black people at all" South like Charleston, I'd be as cynical as Colin Quashie is, too. I'll never know.
I do know, though, that when you set out to make powerful "social statements" instead of powerful paintings, it can be damn hard to pull off either. That said, some of Quashie's Coloring Book paintings are pretty strong:
The idea was to use a style of art that appealed to children to make social statements.I'm not sure I agree. If it took real kids to get that "colored by a kid" visual authenticity, that's fine, but the most compelling feature of the series is their tone of relentlessly optimistic, kid-directed didacticism. They're not afraid of perpetuating bigotry or complete misrepresentation, as long as it makes a difficult topic less distateful.
The Coloring Book operates on three different levels. 1) It allows me to skewer social inconsistencies in the most cynical of terms. 2) It looks at these situations from a child's perspective.
3) The most important component of this piece is the fact that actual children colored the images. After sketching and inking the originals, I passed out copies (minus the text) to friends with children and told them to do whatever they wanted. I chose the ones that appealed to me and used their pictures to color in the final painting. Though not seen on the picture, the children's names are signed below my name along with their age. I did this to underscore the first two points. It is by far the most compelling feature of this series.
The Civil Rights Coloring & Activity Book series feels as pitch perfect, as the similar O.J. Simpson series feels dated. [It was apparently created ten years after the fact, in 2005.] Others seem to direct their toward black racial sensitivities or conventions in ways that seem targeted more at the black community. Either way, the paintings have the potential to capture the dissonance between childlike innocence and willful adult ignorance. And I'd love to hear that someday they find a place in the more enlightened, sophisticated drawing rooms of Charleston's ruling classes, whether bourgie or blue-blazered.
Colin Quashie -- Selected Art [quashie.com via metafilter]