"The ROOTCISM collection focuses on work rich in symbolism, constructed from elements valued for their past experience or purpose. Often made from discarded materials, everything used carries a literal and metaphoric narrative.
Materials are remembered and rendered into ensembles through a process
where one might say, “something is created from nothing."

The ROOTCISM collection showcases vernacular African American visual art; art formed by a culture under pressure in the Deep South. While created in the United States, it has a long history, with roots in Africa that have been grafted into America and cultivated in secrecy using visual vocabularies and materials all its own. Stemming from the same place as Blues, Jazz and Gospel music, the ROOTCISM work illustrates a creative parallel to musical traditions.

 

B.B. King described the Blues as "Life as we live it today, life as we lived it in the past and life we will live in the future." Similarly, ROOTCISM is a collection of works whose powerful narratives offer glimpses into past experiences, current events, and future concerns. British musicians in the 1960’s were inspired by American Blues, a genre long demeaned within the United States. Eric Burden of The Animals felt, "Brits took what the Americans culturally threw into the trash bin."and re-presented the music with popular success. The expressive works in the ROOTSICM collection are also created from sources regarded by dominant American culture to be nothing of value. ROOTCISM represents a creative culture that is categorized by many as Outsider Art. Eric Clapton observed similar labels applied to Blues musicians, considered in the 1950's to represent a primitive aspect of American vernacular culture.

 

Combined pressures of socioeconomic, academic and cultural segregation have pressed visual artists with African roots into guarded communities, simultaneously fueling a centuries old tradition of expressive and uplifting visual art. The ROOTCISM collection focuses on work rich in symbolism, constructed from elements valued for their past experience or purpose. Often made from discarded materials, everything used carries a literal and metaphoric narrative. Materials are remembered and rendered into ensembles through a process where one might say, “something is created from nothing.” Every work in this collection is an exploration of this experience, a statement reflecting and remembering personal and cultural moments unique to the African American experience in the United States. Artist Thornton Dial explains this best, saying succinctly, “You got to use your art to preach something.”

 

Susan and Stephen Pitkin have worked with scholar and collector William Arnett on many publications, including Souls Grown Deep, Volumes I & II, several books on the Quilts of Gees Bend and multiple catalogs of the work of Thornton Dial. While assisting to document William Arnett’s discoveries and collections of cultural treasures, they made it their mission to aid in the illumination of this powerful tradition through the ROOTCISM collection.

 

© Pitkin Studio, 2015