Imar Hutchins’s portraits of figures from African American history contain multitudes, but in this case that phrase refers to experiences as much as chromosomes. The D.C. artist’s “Inheritance,” at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, includes five larger-than-life collage-paintings of such notables as author James Baldwin and surveyor Benjamin Banneker, as well as Lyman T. Johnson, the educator whose lawsuit desegregated the University of Kentucky in 1949.
An installation shot of “Inheritance,” located at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.
The 6-foot-tall head-and-shoulders renderings combine cutout facial features, blocks of bold acrylic colors and patchworks of magazine and document clippings chosen for either texture or content. Many of the cuttings are from periodicals once published for the African American market, but Johnson’s portrait also includes part of a copy of a racist letter whose complete form is mounted on the adjacent wall. The threatening screed, sent to Johnson anonymously, is so abhorrent that it may shock even people hardened by regular exposure to Twitter.
Hutchins, a former lawyer who owns Florida Avenue Grill, has a studio at Pyramid where he produces serigraph (also called silk-screen) prints. First, he crafts mixed-media depictions of the sort shown here. When satisfied with this precursor, he distills it into a smaller print. That’s what he did with his Baldwin portrait, the only collage-painting that hangs next to a serigraph derived from it. (It was made to mark the 95th anniversary of Baldwin’s birth last month.)
Hutchins is an archivist who has surrounded these pictures with objects from his own collection. His concept of “Inheritance” isn’t entirely academic, though. One of the portraits is of Yvonne Hutchins, the artist’s mother, looking stylish in what appears to be a 1960s-vintage hat and jacket. A subtitle identifies her as the daughter of Lyman T. Johnson, which means Imar Hutchins is his grandson. These portraits splinter likenesses like light through a prism, yet some of them commemorate linear connections.
Imar Hutchins: Inheritance Through Oct. 6 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.
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