Printmaking exhibit explore societal tensions, identity through poetry

The dark, richly colored prints in Lockhart Gallery’s “Black: A Graphic Signifier” bring forth the concept of deeply rooted racial tension. The exhibit features the works of Curlee Holton, a printmaker and professor of creative printmaking at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Among the pieces in the exhibition is Holton’s most recent 10-piece “Othello Reimagined in Sepia” series.

Holton said that an essential motivation behind his art is to stop violence, which he believes is made possible through the dialogue that art can open up to people.

“[Art] brings awareness to you,” Holton said. “It becomes a reflection. Sometimes when you see what you’re doing, you stop it. For example, if someone is lying to you, place them in front of a mirror, and then stand behind them and ask the same question. You cannot lie to yourself; it’s not possible. So you will see the person that is lying falter.”

“Othello Reimagined in Sepia” provides unique environments for William Shakespeare’s character Othello in the context of contemporary American race and identity issues.

One piece, titled “Reflection,” shows Othello looking at himself in the mirror after murdering Desdemona. He is almost naked, signifying revelation. He holds a dagger in his hand, and all around him in negative space are images of his family and history, showing an irreconcilable dissonance between his history and his presence.

Holton’s use of sepia colors in printing the Othello collection gives it stark substance and tension. According to Holton, sepia appears to be one shade of dark brown, but the ink itself is composed of multiple shades of brown, gray and black.

“People are not a simple color; they are much more than that. They are very complicated,” Holton said. “We want to have flat, stereotypical readings of people, but no one is like that. So I wanted to use sepia, which is a simplistic color, but with a more complicated story.”

“Man, Mass, Meaning” is a strong example of Holton’s earlier work that examines the dichotomy of black people who went to churches for refuge and a Christian Ku Klux Klan member. Strikingly, the figures juxtapose a black square and a white square, calling attention to the fallacious use of those shades as ethnic signifiers.

Holton began to pursue the arts as a professional in 1988 after an unsatisfying pursuit in business, when he sold his first works to a museum.

Holton’s works have been featured in the Smithsonian exhibit Art in the Atrium’s “Celebrating our Legacy” and are featured permanently in the Yale University Art Gallery.

“Black: A Graphic Signifier” will remain in the Lockhart Gallery until Dec. 7.