Press Release, Art Institute of Seattle, November 15, 2004
Black Maids Tribute Features Portraits of African American Women
The Art Institute of Seattle is proud to present an exhibit of 27 portraits of African American women who served as maids, and whose humility, sacrifice and determination aided the civil rights revolution. Titled “Black Maids Tribute,” the paintings are the work of Seattle artist Joey Robinson and will be shown in The Art Institute of Seattle Gallery from January 17, 2005 to February 24, 2005. The Gallery is located at 2323 Elliott Avenue, Seattle, WA. The public is invited to a special reception to meet the artist on February 3, from 5 pm to 7 pm at the gallery.
Robinsons series began when he was inspired to pay tribute to Lois Spellman, a close Robinson family friend who was looking out her window when she was shot and killed by National Guard troops during the Newark, New Jersey riots of 1967. Spellman was a maid, a mother of ten, and lived above the Robinson family in the Newark housing projects.
She was the "heart and soul of her community," says Robinson, who was 7 at the time of the riot. “I can still remember the shouts of, “They shot Lois,” says Robinson. “I still remember crawling in terror across the floor to stay below the window and out of the line of fire.”
As Robinson painted Lois, he thought about the women he had known who supported their families as domestic servants. He began compiling their stories and researching the stories of other maids, working with acrylics on canvas to capture their profiles.
As much as Robinson was inspired by the stories, finding them artistically and historically compelling, he didnt think other people would share his interest. He started the series for his own personal collection and kept them private.
“I thought no one would care about the stories,” he says. An abstract painter up until he began profiling the Maids, Robinson was apprehensive about showing his new work.
“I didnt know how the public would respond and I didnt want to offend anyone,” he says. “I thought people would think they were ugly — Im not painting pretty pictures of pretty women. Nowadays, everything is based on presentation, beauty and sex. But these stories make people think.”
Robinson was persuaded to hang five paintings for a small show at Seattle University in February, 2004. Since then, his doubts about the publics reception to his work have greatly diminished. "They did care, they did listen," he says.
Visual art critics have taken notice too.
Regina Hackett, an art critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has described his style as "a fluid expressionism that owes something to Jean Michel Basquiat and something to the German expressionists … creating mood as well as character with bright, unmodulated colors."
“It (the stories) honestly changed my life,” Robinson says. “If I hadnt done any research I wouldnt have found them. These stories need to be told. Theyre part of American history.”
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