By Loan Le, Dogwood Managing Editor
On Nov. 14, Danielle and I took the train up to New Haven, Conn., to visit Yale University’s Afro-American Cultural Center. We heard that local artist Gordon Skinner, 35, would be there to conclude his “Hard Works” exhibition with a brief talk and Q & A session.
In the very beginning of this semester, Sonya announced that she found the perfect art piece for Dogwood‘s cover. She pulled up something from her email and revealed to Danielle, Anna and I a bright, colorful abstract painting of a reinterpreted Jesus. She told us the piece was called “Jesus Piece: A Self-Portrait at 27.” Among the vibrant red background the yellow sun-like image, what caught my attention was the eyes of the reinterpreted Jesus that stood in the forefront. There’s something disconcerting in the way the subject stared right at me, judging me, telling me that if I should have something to say, I must say it now.
I learned that this piercing examination, representing both societal pressures and the individual’s critical self-reflection, was what Gordon exactly intended.
The gallery was originally set up so that Skinner could be in front with rows of chairs facing him. However, he preferred a circle arrangement so that all fifteen or so people in attendance could see him and everyone else.
His art pieces, with mediums like acrylic paints and spray paints, surrounded us on four walls.
At a younger age, Skinner struggled with his own identity as an African-American, and according to his artist statement, he often feels like “he is part of a group that feels fragmented, colonized, and lost.”
So when he started painting, three years ago (really? yes, 2009), he wanted to “vent that sense of invisibility in a tangible way.”
Through what he calls integrity art, Skinner seeks to communicate raw and honestly the complexities of identity. He said, “We all wear masks for different reasons.” His artworks, in addition to exploring his own personal journey with identity, seeks to remove the layers of an individual, causing the outsider to reflect on his own concept of self.
Integrity art is “going with your gut,” according to Skinner, something that art school does not allow many artists to do. Skinner considers himself the polar opposite of art school.
Asked when he knows he’s finished with a particular artwork, Skinner said that he constantly works on his art. Even the ones hanging in the gallery have the potential for extension. He compared himself to a driver and the audience to his passengers. “I’m taking you somewhere,” he said to the attendees. Through his work He wants to leave members with a solid idea, something that could allow them to understand a concept without knowing specifically what they had just picked up.
I see his artwork as a homage to previous artists who inspired him once. Included among his influencers, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, Picasso and John Lennon, is talented musician Kurt Cobain, “who took his craft very seriously” and had “his heart on his sleeve.” Like, Cobain’s music, Skinner said that his paintings attempt to connect with a lot of different people.
I found that like many brilliant artists, Skinner seemed to have trouble communicating his artistic process. We’d press him to describe his thinking, and he’d answer, with intermittent pauses, as if trying to translate his beautiful language into a simpler one for the inspired attendees. He said he’ll see a shape, an “intentionally raw quality,” and try his best to capture it with his brush. He finds himself for the most part inspired by an idea or a circumstance and goes about “mastering that spontaneity,” by putting his work down on canvas.
Skinner was raised in Hamden, Conn. He now resides in New Haven and along with practicing his art, he’s holding down three jobs.
He’s really an all-around fantastic and brilliant guy. I know that Dogwood is so honored to have Gordon on board, and we’re excited for what’s coming this semester. This is not the last time you’ll hear about Gordon Skinner, trust me.
Loan Le is one of three Dogwood managing editors. A third-year majoring in journalism and creative writing, Loan is also the executive editor of Fairfield University’s campus newspaper, The Mirror, which publishes weekly.