P R E S S R E L E A S E S 2002
September 15, 2002
Kidspace Announces Exhibit by Esteemed New Orleans Artist Willie Birch
September 14th 2002- January 5th, 2003
(North Adams, Mass.) Somebody's Child: Paintings by Willie Birch, to open at Kidspace on September 14, features charcoal-and-acrylic portraits on paper by this New Orleans native. Birch draws many of his influences from African-American culture of New Orleans. His portraits, on loan from the Luise Ross Gallery in New York City, use simple colors and complex figural compositions to illuminate the subjects' differing personalities and to depict the individual and communal aspects of New Orleans' African-American culture. Somebody's Child will be installed in Kidspace through early January.
Birch began his artistic career at a young age; one of his junior high-school teachers recognized his talent and began an art program at the local YMCA for him and other talented children. As a young adult, Birch attended Southern University in New Orleans, participated in the civil rights movement in and around the area and was arrested during several sit-ins. Birch decided to join the Air Force in order to preempt the draft and was sent to Holland as an air force pilot. It was in Amsterdam that Birch was, for the first time in his life, "exposed to real paintings on the wall."
After completing his undergraduate education at SUNO, having won an art contest in Atlanta and his first large-scale recognition as an artist, Birch elected to attend graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art. During his time as a graduate student, Birch was influenced by different schools of painting including the Washington Color School. By the time of his tenure at the Studio Museum of Harlem, he says he "reevaluated what [he] wanted to do." He realized that he had buried his overt African themes under more Eurocentric, and therefore more widely accepted, styles of painting. Birch says of this turning point: "I didn't want to suppress my Blackness anymore." After this important realization he also developed a newfound respect for self-trained artists as well as his African-American heritage. The result of these realizations were two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, one in painting and the other in sculpture, as well as a John Guggenheim Fellowship for sculpture and a New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship award. In between traveling extensively to research and gain background for his art, Birch lived and worked in New York City.
Recently Birch decided to return to his New Orleans home and reexamine his heritage. He says, "I see my work and my art as a storyteller. Part of what I do is to document the world in which I live - my history and my existence." The twelve portraits included in Somebody's Child are the result of the his return to Louisiana. Birch uses thick lines and bright colors in order to create a vibrant feeling that echoes the culture and atmosphere of New Orleans. According to New York magazine's Michael Brenson, "through painting, Birch gives his community a home in the world." In New Orleans Birch is represented by The Arthur Roger Gallery.
This fall Kidspace will continue its school partnership with the North Adams Public Schools. Students and teachers grades pre-K through 6 will visit the Birch exhibition and work in their classrooms on an arts-based interdisciplinary curriculum developed by the Kidspace staff. Also schools from the Northern Berkshire School Union will participate in the Kidspace Three Museum semester. As part of this expansion of the Kidspace program, students and teachers will visit the Williams College Museum of Art, Clark Art Institute, and MASS MoCA.
Kidspace at MASS MoCA is a joint program of the Williams College Museum of Art, the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, and MASS MoCA. Additional funding has been provided in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (a state agency), the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), the Cherkis family, and the Brownrigg Charitable Trust in memory of Lynn Laitman. Additional funding for Somebody's Child has been provided by GE Plastics and Wal-Mart.
Please call Kidspace at (413) 664-4481 x8131 for public hours. Tentatively, the hours are Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 P.M., and one weekday afternoon, plus holiday hours. Admission to Kidspace is free.
MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
MASS MoCA 1040 MASS MoCA Way North Adams, MA 01247 413.MOCA.111 www.massmoca.org MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located on a 13- acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings. MASS MoCA focuses on the work of visual and performing artists charting new territory.
For Immediate Release