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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2020

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FEB 2020 Issue
Critics Page

Pentimenti

(as told to and edited by Alvin Hall)

<em>Ernesto</em>, 2019, cut-and-pasted printed paper, charcoal, graphite, and color pencil on Yupo paper, 14 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery and Wardell Milan.
Ernesto, 2019, cut-and-pasted printed paper, charcoal, graphite, and color pencil on Yupo paper, 14 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery and Wardell Milan.

I was thinking about the death of a generation of Black gay men as I was creating these new collages. Looking through a book of images by Robert Mapplethorpe, I considered how his images of Black men, the Black male body, and Black male sexuality were shaped by his white gaze. Was it possible for me, as a Black queer artist, to not only alter, if you will, how people approached the now iconic images, but to suggest or evoke to the viewer a Black gaze—that of other Black, gay men?

Many of the people in these photographs are probably dead. And I suspect too many died before they had an opportunity to share, to pass along much of their wisdom and insights to the next generation. As I looked at the faces and bodies in the Mapplethorpe book, I could not help but think of all of the Black men not pictured on the pages who essentially disappeared. What resonances are left of their lives, of their experiences?

(Right) <em>Henly Robertson</em>, 2019, charcoal, graphite, color pencil, pastel, oil stick on hand dyed paper. 49 3/4 x 37 7/8 in. Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery and Wardell Milan. (Left) <em>Edward</em>, 2019, cut-and-pasted printed paper. 11 x 9 1/8 in. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery and Wardell Milan.
(Right) Henly Robertson, 2019, charcoal, graphite, color pencil, pastel, oil stick on hand dyed paper. 49 3/4 x 37 7/8 in. Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery and Wardell Milan. (Left) Edward, 2019, cut-and-pasted printed paper. 11 x 9 1/8 in. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery and Wardell Milan.

My layering of photography, line drawing and painting in the collages and my use of multiple faces, features, and movement in the same area of the work become pentimenti, not of earlier paintings but of earlier lives. When looking at the cuts in the photographs, the drawings through and around images, the paint colors highlighting certain areas, I want the viewer to recall—suddenly or slowly, from a figure’s head shape, glance, sly smile, piercing eyes—the fullness of an individual Black man’s life every day—at home, at work, in families, in friendships, in relationships. Each collage is an evocation of and a rumination on some of the features of expressing Black queer lives then and now.

Contributor

Wardell Milan

is an American visual artist residing in New York City. His work consists of drawing, painting, and photography, as well as constructing three-dimensional dioramas.

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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2020

All Issues