Painter’s work shines in retrospective exhibit

“Field of Dreams” by Solomon Thurman

By Sarah Weinman, Special to the Jewish Light

The exhibition Solomon Thurman: An Artistic Practice at The Sheldon strongly attracted me. Thurman, a local African-American artist whose 40 years’ worth of work is celebrated in this show, depicts his subjects with deep respect through bold colors and a range of painting sizes from monumental to small. Much of his art explores the African Diaspora by portraying the lives of sharecroppers and bluesmen who underwent spiritual and physical journeys to better their lives.

The artist neatly encompasses this theme through his three acrylic-on-canvas pieces about train travel, titled Train North, Day; Train North, Sunset; and Train North, Night. In all three, a long train speeds from right to left. Train North, Day features a green meadow, puffy white clouds, and even a butterfly. Train North, Sunset presents a fiery red and orange sky and a dark train which almost merges with the dark land. Train North, Night shows a full moon, thin gray clouds, and a cobalt-blue sky. The different landscapes may represent different legs of the trek: an optimistic beginning, a tough middle, and a rewarding end. Thurman refers to this series as a “time-lapse by illustrating day, sunset, night during a long train ride. Many bluesmen had to go North to earn a living as musicians.” These beautiful landscapes visualize Thurman’s cultural history. 

Thurman modernizes the journey motif in his Highway Landscapes series, made up of six acrylic paintings of road travel seen from the point of view of passengers in a car. Each painting depicts a stretch of open highway with telephone poles, fences, and billboard signs. The sky in each piece is wonderfully evocative: heavy gray clouds in one painting, high delicate pink clouds in another. Thurman painted these from digital photographs he took. He used his camera only when “I saw an interesting sky…Changing weather patterns make the most dramatic skies,” he says. The open highway, huge sky, and minimal examples of human habitation create a sense of endlessness, a journey yet to be completed.

Solomon Thurman: An Artistic Practice is on view at The Sheldon through September 19.  The Sheldon is located at 3648 Washington Blvd. in St. Louis City.  Gallery hours are Tuesday noon – 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday noon – 5:00 p.m.; and Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  For more information, call 314-533-9900 or visit www.thesheldon.org.  

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