Art Got Into Me: The Work of Engels the Artist
Neuberger Museum of Art, 2019 - African American art - 144 pages
This illustrated publication, the first in the artist's career, accompanies the exhibition "Art Got into Me" The Work of Engels the Artist. It includes fifty-four color plates, an interview with the artist by curator Patrice Giasson, and texts by scholar Julian Kreimer and artist Tom Otterness. For Engels, the canvas is a limited space that requires subversion, inversion, expansion, or containment. He engages in a sort of metonymic game, whereby the container becomes the contained, and the support becomes the object itself. The fabric of the canvas, the wood of the stretcher, and the metal staples are part of his iconography. Abstract and poetic, his sculptural paintings are both aesthetically appealing and profoundly meaningful. "The strict economy of line and texture, the use of everyday objects, and makeshift elegance recall my grandmother's home in Port-au-Prince, which against all odds had splendor," says the artist. The purity and the balance found in each work stand in contrast to the presence of torn and broken parts, and thick paint stains. They ultimately bring to mind wounds and stitches, breaking and repairing, inside and outside, the visible and the hidden, and, ultimately, life and death. While Engels's art is in dialogue with European and American art traditions such as abstraction, arte povera, conceptual art, and minimalism, to name a few, his work also contains spiritual elements and tackles Haitian historical and social themes. One of the key works in the exhibition, Cotton Pearl (2017), reflects the historical tension that accompanied the colonization of the Americas. The word cotton refers to the slaves who were brought from Africa to work the cotton fields, while pearl signifies Haiti in colonial times, when, because of its natural beauty and rich soil, it was considered the "pearl of the Caribbean." The apparently calm surface of Engels's white Cotton Pearl hides a world of conflict as the large wall sculpture is in fact made of broken parts and seems about to explode.
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