Art is the darling offspring of Jamaican dancehall and sound system culture, in Art in the Dancehall, which opened Saturday night at Echo Park’s Subliminal Projects. An eager crowd overflowed down the block waiting to get in to the gallery for both the art and a live performance by musical guest, DJ Tom Chasteen from Dub Club.
Curated by Al Fingers and Shimmy Shimmy, the exhibit is an exuberant celebration of dancehall illustration and design from 1979 to the present, translating this exciting musical world into dynamic and vibrant graphic images.
One of the earlier artists represented is Wilfred Limonious, whose powerful figurative illustrations graced the covers of albums like Gregory Isaacs’ Midnight Confidential (1995) – which depicts two figures facing each other in a restricted palette of blue, red and brown. Lining one wall of the gallery are detailed character studies by Ellen G, in a series of limited edition giclee print portraits of dancehall luminaries, including Elephant Man (2010) and Buju Banton (2010).
Among the few original paintings in this exhibit are the acrylic on paper works by Robin Clare, one of the younger artists who has kept this tradition going. Primarily text driven, with tiny figures worked into the design, Clare repeats words across the frame like, Dip and Come Up, Parachute and Butterfly, signifying dancehall moves.
Vivid black and white images by Gabe, like Life Sweet (2012) and Overcome (2012) incorporate text and rows of repeated graphic motifs, their patterns reflecting reggae iconography. Bright, vibrant zine illustrations by Peter Edwards, like No Ice Cream Sound 1, (2011) portray figures dancing in an island scene, a bright yellow sky in the background. Edwards’ illustrations have been featured on album covers, comic books, and posters.
Daniel David Freeman‘s original embroidery adds another layer to this collection, with his colorful textured works, Mr. Mention (2012) and Stamina Daddy (2012)
A fun survey with high visual impact and focused historical significance, Art in the Dancehall ducuments the unique visual dimension of this engaging music and dance form.
Top Image: Tony McDermott, Cover illustration for the Gregory Isaacs album, Midnight Confidential (Greensleeves), (1995) Archival giclee print
Text and photos Megan Abrahams
Art in the Dancehall
February 2 to March 2, 2013
1331 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Wednesday to Saturday 12 to 6 p.m.