Growth of an artist
Two large installations, titled “Who in Hell is Watching the Gates,” provide an entry point to a retrospective exhibit of works by draftsman, painter and sculptor Tyrone Geter. The installations both have a charcoal drawing of a woman, but Geter also uses found objects and torn paper. Beyond these installations the viewer sees several sculptures featuring heads and faces, and some of Geter’s large scale paintings and collages.
That view represents the wide range of work in a new retrospective of Geter’s art that opens Sunday at the North Carolina Central University Art Museum. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Geter earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from Ohio University. He is professor and director of the Ponder Gallery of Art at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C.
In 1979, Geter earned a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council in Boston that allowed him to spend seven years in Zaria, Nigeria.
Many of his large-scale charcoal drawings in this exhibit are from that period. When Kenneth Rodgers, director of the NCCU Art Museum, first saw Geter’s work about 30 years ago, he immediately placed him beside Charles White (1918-1979), a great African-American draftsman. “I haven’t seen anyone handle charcoal like Tyrone Geter, in terms of pure draftsmanship. I place him hear the top,” Rodgers said.
If one follows the exhibit chronologically, the first paintings and drawings are from Geter’s student years. A painting titled “Black History Month” contains references to Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone and to the recent bicentennial of the 1970s.
During his time in Africa, Rodgers said Geter sharpened his draftsmanship abilities. “It really pushed him to another level,” Rodgers said. “Charcoal is unforgiving. When you look at all these, it’s pretty apparent not only was he comfortable with the medium, he mastered it.”
Rodgers points to the 1986 piece “Spirit Ancestors,” a charcoal drawing on paper, as one example. Geter is able to contrast physical human figures and faces with spirit figures, reflecting the importance of ancestors and elders in African belief. He also points to Geter’s ability to use charcoal to make the viewer feel swept up in the movement of the painting. The sharpness of faces and this sweeping movement also are prominent in “Spirit # 3, Metamorphosis” and “Women Being What They Are.”
Mastering the human figure is a major challenge for artists, Rodgers said. He also once told a class that drawing hands is one of the greatest challenges of drawing, and Geter mastered both, as Rodgers points out in “Council,” a drawing that appears to be a group of elders gathered to work out a problem. They have serious expressions on their faces, and their hands are almost photographic in detail.
Geter later worked in collage, and this exhibit has many examples, beginning with the 2010-2011 piece “Whispers of What the Hummingbird Said,” made of charcoal, pastel and torn paper. As in the charcoal drawings, faces and figures are prominent in the collages. “Nightwatcher” is an almost eerie vision of a woman’s face, in charcoal, pastel and torn paper, with the torn paper representing the woman’s hair. In “I Learned What I Was Taught,” Geter has a charcoal drawing of a young man, with paper cut in a way to represent wings. Several torn paper panels contain other charcoal drawings, and sayings like “Justice Must Be Blind,” and the verses of the Lucille Clifton poem “We Real Cool.”
“Feel the Spirit” has bright colors, and Rodgers noted how the woman who is the center of the action appears “transfixed in this special moment.”
More recent work in this show includes sculptures and installations, which reflect Geter’s interest in using found items.
“What we see here is a kind of evolution ... a coming of age, where he begins to look at the world differently and make statements differently,” while holding on to his abilities as a master draftsman, Rodgers said. “I think there’s something here that everyone can relate to and identify with,” he said.