Reception and Book Launch
12-2pm Saturday 3rd March 2018
James Hockey and Foyer Galleries at University for the Creative Arts (UCA), Farnham are pleased to present Eugene Palmer’s first major solo exhibition in over a decade. Didn’t It Rain features three distinct but interconnected series of figurative works based on imagery garnered from personal and public spectra and reconstituted as a series of enthralling visual allegories, central to which is the Black female subject.
The focus of the exhibition is five larger-than-life-size double-portraits of Black women modelling elegant and even outlandish outfits. Scaled up and set against flat background colours, each portrait has a doppelgänger. Palmer’s use of repetition contains both explicit and latent meaning, signifying what he describes as the “labour of painting” but also a questioning of the authentic subject. The source of these portraits are American websites featuring Black women modelling various forms of church attire. Amongst the smiles and elegance, the sense of optimism and assuredness, there is also a certain disquiet permeating the work. Writer Carol Dixon notes “Whatever these women might be experiencing is shielded behind the façade of their personae.”
This new body of work explores the enduring relationship between Black people, the church and the idea of the extended family. Here, Palmer locates himself as part of a wider tradition, including the seminal writings of influential American thinkers such as W.E.B Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson, the foundational role of churches in the 1950s civil rights movement, the writing of James Baldwin and the art of Elizabeth Catlett and Keith Piper.
Baby Shower is a series of twelve sketches on paper, which, as the title suggests, are derived from a real-life gathering. Exuding an overwhelming sense of compassion and affirmation, the vitality of life and the extended family are evocatively captured. In Between Black and White, re-presents a close-up photograph of a woman as twelve near identical painted portraits. Here, replication functions as a form of visual alliteration; the paintings are similar, but rendered in a sequence of tonal variations. Pigmentation and composition are infused with ambiguity. The formal concerns of painting intersect those concerning the anthropological gaze and systems of racial classification.
Like the multivalent nature of all Palmer’s work, Didn’t It Raindenotes a multiplicity of cultural meanings. From a peculiarly British obsession with weather, ‘didn’t it rain’ is an old-time expression Palmer recalls from his early life in Jamaica. However, the Negro spiritual popularised in American gospel music by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson arguably provides the adage’s most compelling manifestation, chiming with Palmer’s recollection of a religious upbringing, and a declaration of survival and perseverance in the Black diaspora.
Interlaced with an array of formal and conceptual concerns, Palmer’s primarily figurative painting is distinguished by its restless quest to probe and visualise the legacies and contemporary realities of Black diasporic identity.
Eugene Palmer Biography
Eugene Palmer was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1955 and moved to Birmingham, England in 1966. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Wimbledon College of Arts in 1978 and completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1985.
Solo exhibitions include: Recent Paintings by Eugene Palmer, Bedford Hill Gallery, London 1988; Eugene Palmer Recent Paintings, 198 Gallery, London, 1990; Eugene Palmer, Duncan Campbell Contemporary Art, London, 1992; Eugene Palmer, Norwich Gallery, 1993 and touring; Eugene Palmer: Recent Paintings, Duncan Campbell Contemporary Art, London, 1994; Eugene Palmer: Copy Series, Royal Commonwealth Society, London, November 1998/99; Eugene Palmer: Recent Paintings, Duncan Campbell Contemporary Art, London, 1997; Eugene Palmer: Recent Paintings, Duncan Campbell Fine Art, London, 1999; Eugene Palmer Recent Paintings, Bonington Gallery, Nottingham Trent University, 1999; Eugene Palmer: Index, Wolsey Art Gallery, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich 2004.
Group exhibitions include: The New Contemporaries, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1977; Black Art: Plotting the Course, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (touring) 1988; History and Identity, Norwich Gallery, Norwich, 1991; Black People and the British Flag, Cornerhouse, Manchester (touring), 1993; Home & Away: Seven Jamaican Artists, October Gallery, London, 1994; Transforming the Crown: African, Asian & Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966-1996, the Caribbean Cultural Center, the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1997/98; FOIL: An Exhibition of Paintings by Derrick Haughton, Kathleen Mullaniff, Eugene Palmer, and Edward Chell, Kingston University, 1998; the London Group Annual Exhibition, the Cello Factory London, 2015; Skyline, Electro Studio, St Leonards-on-Sea, 2016. Palmer’s work is held in several public and private collections, including Arts Council Collection and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. He lives and works in St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue featuring newly commissioned essays by Professor Eddie Chambers – University of Texas at Austin, and Dr Carol Ann Dixon – a London-based researcher and education consultant.
The exhibition also includes the short film Eugene Palmer: Didn’t It Rain, produced by staff and students from BA (Hons) Film Production, UCA.
Eugene Palmer Didn’t It Rain: New Paintings has been organised and curated by Richard Hylton, Cultural Programme Curator, UCA.
Eugene Palmer Didn't It Rain: New Paintings is supported by Arts Council England and the University for the Creative Arts.
Header Image: Installation View, Black I (blue), Black II (yellow), Black (pink) oil on canvas, 240cm x 155cm, 2018
Photography: Steve White