Why do we need art?
And why does anyone bother to make it?
James Denmark, featured artist at the 22nd annual Art in the Atrium show, had pretty good answers for both questions at Friday’s reception in Morristown.
“Your eyes are just like your stomach. You have to see beautiful things. You should see creativity. If you don’t feed your eyes, something happens to you internally. So you should feed your eyes,” said the 77-year artist, whose collages, watercolors, woodcuts and reproductions are highly prized by collectors.
Of course, it wasn’t always so. James recounted (see video above) when a $165 sale was a princely sum to him.
Why did he want to toil in that vineyard?
At an awards ceremony a few years ago, the late singer and actress Eartha Kitt told James: “Listen, you have no choice but to do what you. Because I’ve been doing what I’m doing all of my life, and I’m not ever going to give up doing what I do.”
James, whose works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said he identifies with those strong personalities “who made the sacrifice ‘just because.'”
“That’s who I am. I’m here tonight ‘just because,'” he said.
His creations and those of 27 other top African American artists fill four floors of the Morris County Administration and Records Building on Court Street.
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Newark artist Jerry Gant, whose career began with a can of spray paint during his youth in New York, said his sculpture
The Space Within Metal with Red Hat asks another fundamental question.
“On the outside is a hard exterior. Deep within is where our laughter, our joy, our fear is. What is the soft core?” Jerry said.
Watercolor painter Queintard DeGeneste of Somerset said his mission is “affordable fine art for everyone.” He seems to have found a sweet spot $150 prices for his paintings.
“They don’t do me any good in a studio or gallery,” Queintard said. “I want them in someone’s home. That’s what it’s all about.”
And then there are the grandfather clocks, wall clocks and cabinets of William Reid, a retired official of the Newark Housing Authority who carves a bird into his pieces to honor his late mother. (“That’s pretty as a bird,” she said of her son’s first work.)
African mahogany. Zebrawood. Purpleheart.
“I love working with the wood,” William said.
One of his clocks won a national award for its craftsmanship. Which is even more impressive when you discover that William was born without a left hand. Don’t call it a disability.
“I can do anything anybody else can do,” he said. “If you can do it, I can do it better.”