Written by Phil Cerroni
By Andrew McElwee
The Irving Black Arts Council kicked off this year's Black History Month with The Diaspora: From Motherland to the Homeland. A reception for art exhibit was hosted at the Irving Arts Center on Feb. 2. Featuring a gallery of cultural portraits and wood carvings, the exhibit treats art-lovers to impressionistic landscapes, ethnic realism pieces and carvings reminiscent of African heritage.
Three prominent African-American artists, George Cephus, Jr., Willie James Johnson, and Murielle White, created the works. It's not often you get to meet the masters behind the masterpieces. But all three artists could be seen mingling about the reception, enjoying refreshments with patrons, and later engaging in a Q & A session.
George Cephas, Jr., originally from Louisiana and a graduate of University of North Texas graduate, was pleased to show off his realism portraits and landscapes. An artist for 40-plus years, he continues to paint and runs a design studio in Dallas.
"I think it has a real strong impact," said Cephas, when asked about his artistic influence. "I think [people] are amazed at how my colors go well together in my paintings, and they like how much effort I put into it."
Many of the carvings on display also belonged to Mr. Cephas, whose woodworking further spurs on his creativity. Like Michelangelo, he possesses the ability to see the work of art in the raw material, waiting to be released.
Willie James Johnson, a Dallas native, offered a more spiritual side to his works. An evangelical minister for over 50 years, his artistic prowess has developed alongside his preaching. Both talents seem to provide a sort of back-and-forth inspiration between them.
"I have been painting for 60 years and an evangelist for 52 years," said Johnson. "God gave me this ability, because I've never been to school. So I feel good about being out here."
Without any formal training, Reverend Johnson's ability to create striking renditions of Christ or the America bald eagle is truly a spiritual gift.
If diversity could be embodied in someone, it is definitely Ms. Murielle White. Born and raised in Paris, her parentage is a unique blend of Asian, Indian, and French. Skilled in traditional Chinese landscape painting and educated at the University of South Florida (and UNT), her portraits bring out her multicultural identity through the abstract and the impressionistic.
"It's very different for me because I'm not American," said White, when asked about displaying her work locally. "I feel very privileged to showcase my work here, and make it all fit in."
Though not from the United States, her diverse background nonetheless enables her to connect with the African-American community. Ms. White has also been a featured artist in several national competitions, and currently teaches holds a professorship in art at the University of North Texas.
The Diaspora: From Motherland to the Homeland is truly an experience to share, no matter what your heritage. If anything, it is a reminder of how ethnicity and creativity has helped shape America into what it is today.
The exhibit runs through Feb. 28. For more information, visit www.irvingartscenter.com or call 972.252.ARTS.