Tender, Yet Monumental Figures Crafted From the Tides

MILWAUKEE, WI — Stirred by his proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Khari Turner realized during a residency at Iris Project in Venice, CA, that global bodies of water held personal and universal histories, as well as spiritual consonance. The result was 21 new paintings exploring this underlying theme.

Khari Turner, “I’m the Shining Star” (2020), acrylic, ink, ocean water, Milwaukee River, Lake Michigan, Southern Point of Manhattan water on paper, 50 x 36 inches (photo by the artist)

Lake Michigan, in Turner’s home town of Milwaukee, was already folded into his childhood as a place of reflection. Midwestern waterways served as tributaries of hope for his family and countless others during the Great Migration. When he moved to New York City to attend the MFA program at Columbia University in 2019, echoes of slave ships, transport, and displacement lingered at the Atlantic coastline. “I see Black people as the ocean,” Turner said in an email to Hyperallergic. His male figures are indeed awash with global histories of triumph and struggle. 

Turner not only physically mixes his paint with water from these sources but also drips, splashes, and swooshes gestures that integrate the human form with tidal momentum. Monumental figures dissolve from solid to fluid with fervently graceful paint handling. By isolating the noses and lips of each figure, Turner celebrates these attributes while marking the ever-present tensions of visibility. An impressively tender range of emotions consistently surfaces in his work. 

Khari Turner, “Wash Over Me” (2020), acrylic, oil, ocean water, Milwaukee River, Lake Michigan, Southern Point of Manhattan water on canvas, 48 x 36 inches (photo by the artist)

Khari Turner: Soles of My People continues through January 2, 2021 at NŌ Studios (1037 West McKinley Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). 

Tender, Yet Monumental Figures Crafted From the Tides is from Hyperallergic, a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today.

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