Home Grown, 3 Decades of Visual Improvisation By Reginald Madison
When human eyes have never seen, where human beings have never been, I build a world of abstract dreams and I wait for you.
Sometimes gifts come from Saturn as did the myth surrounding Sun Ra, musician extraordinaire, pioneering jazz improviser, jazz composer/conductor, Afro Futurism godfather, and an inspiration to many including Reginald Madison. Other times gifts come from Chicago, such as Reginald Madison, artist, pioneering curator and maestro of collaborative events. He currently has a solo exhibition, Home Grown, at September, 449 Warren St., Hudson, NY. This exhibition is in partnership with, The Hudson Eye, a 10-day annual public program and urban showcase that focuses on dance, music, performance, film, and visual art, and Basilica Hudson, a non-profit multidisciplinary art center that supports the creation, production and presentation of independent arts and culture.
Madison’s exhibit at September is on view till October 10. As you move down bustling, now hip Warren Street, don’t stop for a snack or to shop, just pull open the door tucked inside 449 main St. and ascend the aerobic escalator to one of the best galleries to actually view art in the area. As you reach the top, leaving the detritus of noise and crowds, you still don’t know the treat you are in for. Take the corner and you are in a sizey, but not cavernous space, kind of a square shape with natural light and windows, real windows. A space that is big enough to step back and look. There is no attitude or snobbery or any of the other constraints that inhibit people from going in galleries or asking questions once you are immersed in the work, and the work is wonderful. Paintings by Reginald Madison spanning 3 decades fill the walls. Madison describes himself as an untrained artist, but after decades of painting it is hard to really ascribe that moniker when realizing his sense of color, composition and his sheer love of creating innovative work. His paintings range from total abstraction to images popping in unexpectedly. As he explains, “ I work in a pretty spontaneous way, I work best not having a preconceived idea of what I am going to do. I am more interested in the surprise.”
On the back wall of the gallery, the painting, “The Sage Lee Morgan”, 2015, titled for a jazz trumpeter and composer whose life was cut short by a crime of passion at the early age of 33, is a complex composition resting on a backdrop of brushy pinks, mauves, grays and greens. This is not a painting to pass by in the proverbial 10 seconds most people look at art. The longer you look the more you see. Hands emerge in different shapes and sizes, black and alizarin rivers of paint move your eye down the center of the canvas, daubs of blue, pink and white create intricate patterns leading to the base of the image. Diagonal and straight lines break the entire painting into sections that tend not to stay in their area, but do delineate the canvas. Much like free form improvisation this work embodies a visual riff on painting.
On the adjacent wall is the only assemblage in the exhibition. “Toy Dance”, 2013, it is a painting as much as a construction. Sitting on a flat green tinted yellow base the 3 dimensional core conjures images of locomotion, machinery and animation. Intricate layers of strips of wood and colors of white, blue and burnt umber seem to launch the construction off the base. Tiny markings of dots, lines, grids, and squares create an infinite sense of depth.
Moving to the right of the assemblage, “The King’s Equipment”, 2000, is a work composed of eight panels bound together as one image. Each panel creates a line or seam that divides the painting precisely down the middle and then in eighths. Abstract shapes combine with still life images of what appears to be a vessel, fish and other ephemera. Black and dark earth tones mostly set the backdrop, but the two top components are equally dividing the painting, one side black the other painterly white and blue with a small image of a daisy like shape. This forces your eye to see the entire painting as left side vs. right side. Madison ascribed the title of the painting to the equipment or belongings the king needed to travel to the afterlife. Madison revealed that he often titles his work upon completion. This is a critical revelation as it solidifies Madison’s method of work is rooted in his deep immersion in free form jazz and his artworks are consistently open to reinterpretation. He is looking at his own work the way his audience might and he consistently perceives the multitude of free associations and new understandings from looking in the same manner musicians improvise from listening.
Finally take some time with, “Sysuphus Sail”. It’s a relatively recent work and small in comparison to some of the other pieces in the show. Its is a simple composition, highly textured green and bits of yellow at the top, turquoise water and a white and black raft holding down the base. A reddish brown sail emerges from the raft, bent to the right by what might be the inferred wind. The Greek myth of Sysuphus tells the tale of the king of Ephrya (Present day Corinth) who cheated death twice and was punished by having to push a huge boulder up a hill only to have it roll back to the bottom at the very moment he almost reached the peak. Sometimes creative work, whether it is visual art, music or writing has the same essence as this boulder. In spending time with this body of work, spanning years of dedication to culture, Madison does reach the top or over comes the winds bending his sail.
Madison’s muse has always been jazz, particularly inspired from the life and myth of Sun Ra. To quote him, “Music always inspires me, I would be totally lost without it”. Hailing from the south side of Chicago his parents would regale him in stories of Club Delisa, where Herman Blount later know as Sun Ra frequently played. As a young adult he left Chicago traveled through Europe and landed in the Berkshires, later moving to the Hudson Valley where he has made his home. Many artists are inspired by those who went before them, but that is as far as they go. Madison has taken the outlook of Sun Ra and imbued it with his own vision, talents, and possibilities enriching a 21st century Hudson Valley and inspiring a new generation.