Joe Overstreet, Innovation of Flight: Paintings 1967-1972
Eric Firestone Gallery
March 1 – May 5, 2018
Eric Firestone Gallery is pleased to announce the upcoming exhibition: Joe Overstreet, Innovation of Flight: Paintings 1967-72, on view from March 1 through May 5, 2018, and guest curated by Horace Brockington. The exhibition will focus on Overstreet’s “Flight Patterns” series: suspended canvases made in the early 1970s. A select group of shaped canvas constructions from the late 1960s will also be on view. This is the first major survey of Overstreet’s early work in decades. With this exhibition, Eric Firestone Gallery announces the representation of artist Joe Overstreet.
The exhibition is an opportunity to revisit a radical body of work made nearly 50 years ago, and rarely seen today. In them, the language of geometric abstract painting is re-imagined into monumental installations that tell stories about the painful realities of African American history through innovative spatial structures.
Installed with ropes threaded through grommets and attached to the ceiling, wall, and floor, the work becomes architectural. The geometries are activated – referencing the dynamism of Free Jazz and the function of African art as ritual, and ceremonial objects. As Brockington states in his curatorial statement, “The complex geometry in these paintings provides compositional structure for the subsequent improvisational manipulation of texture, color, light and form on the surface.” The work is slightly different with each installation: complex formations that extend off the wall into space creating cubic geometries, dynamic angles, and pyramidal forms. The artist cedes control, allowing others to become partial authors of the work, like social sculpture.
Overstreet was born in 1933 in rural Mississippi – an area mostly populated by African Americans and Choctaw Native Americans. Like many African American families who were part of the Great Migration, Overstreet’s early life was nomadic, and his early exposure was to Black and Native American rural culture. His father, a mason seeking work, drove his family across the South to find work in Thunderbolt, Georgia and then New York City. Eventually, they joined seven other families traveling west in a caravan for protection, to Washington State and Oregon, before settling in Oakland, California. These experiences would become formative in Overstreet’s work.
In the 1950s, Overstreet studied at the California School of Fine Arts (San Francisco) and California College of Arts and Crafts (Oakland). He began his career in the Bay Area, and was a fixture of the Beat scene. His Grant Street studio was located near that of Sargent Johnson, a sculptor and painter who became a mentor. Johnson was an adherent of the philosophy of Alain Locke – the “father of the Harlem Renaissance,” who advocated that African-American artists look to their ancestral legacy for aesthetic sources and inspiration. By the mid1960s, Overstreet began breaking away from the rectangle of the stretcher and from the narrative of Western art history. Drawing inspiration from the art of North Africa, Islamic mosques, art from Mali and Native American Art, he used wooden dowels shaped with a jigsaw and hand tools to make intricate stretchers, painting in patterns drawn from Aztec, Benin, and Egyptian cultures.