If birds are messengers, they have plenty to tell us at Henrietta Mantooth’s exhibit at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, New York.
The exhibit Henrietta Mantooth: Jailbirds & Flowers features a large installation about the prison system in the United States. Bars & Stripes, Caged America, and File Box USA are some of the elements. Other large paintings by the artist will be exhibited in the show which opens on Friday October 24, with a reception from 4:00 to 6:00 pm on Saturday October 25. Ms. Mantooth will give an artist’s talk at 3:00 pm on the 25th, just before the reception. A panel discussion is planned for November 15 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm, with speakers who have worked in New York State prisons.
Mantooth describes her work as “witnessing.” Her paintings are often about people, usually nameless, who look out at us every day from the newspapers and television – refugees, rebels, farmers, displaced families – men and women who tend and defend their land, homes, children, animals and ideas. She intends that these people speak out from the paintings: “Here we are”. “Although the daily news of struggle and loss still haunts my art, the work remains strangely cheerful,” says Mantooth. “Birds fly in and flowers bloom, reminding us of renewal and hope. To paraphrase a Jack Gilbert poem, ‘with sorrow and slaughter everywhere, we still must risk delight’.”
Ms. Mantooth’s work is influenced by her years in experimental theater in New York and in university programs, using visual elements as part of the action on stage. Also evident is her experience of living and working as a journalist and painter in Latin America for 18 years, where she traveled to outlying towns and villages in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico and other areas, talking with farm families.
“Those experiences connected with my own raw upbringing which varied from the pop culture of Kansas City streets, reflecting jazz, corrupt politics and racial inequality,” says Mantooth. “My earliest and vital artistic influences were in the dime stores – and the Missouri farmland where my mother’s people raised grapes and apples, and where my sister and I fashioned our toys and dolls from mud and sticks, hollyhocks, corn cobs and corn silk, concocting paints from mulberries beets, boiled onions, grasses and laundry bluing. This early background, in the time of the great depression and dust storms, still gives intensity and reality to my art and affects my approach to materials and techniques.”
Ms. Mantooth has received awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, among others. Her work has been shown at the Queens Museum of Art, the Sao Paulo Biennial, the Museums of Modern Art in Sao Paulo and Bahia, Brazil, the Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg and many galleries in New York and other cities in the U.S., Brazil and Italy.
The exhibition is curated by Nancy Azara and Matthew T. Leaycraft.