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Native son’s artistic journey takes him to the Smithsonian, again

11th November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

To have work displayed at the distinguished Smithsonian is a dream for any artist. This accomplishment is a reality for New Orleans own Gustave Blache III.

Blache recently received word that The Smithsonian National Museum of African American His­tory and Culture in Washington, D.C., has acquired Self Portrait with Checkered Scarf, an original oil painting for their permanent collection.

Self portrait of Gustave Blache, III entitled "Self Portrait with Checkered Scarf"

Self portrait of Gustave Blache, III entitled “Self Portrait with Checkered Scarf”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 by an Act of Congress, establishing it as part of the Smithsonian Institution. This site is between the Washing­ton Monument and the Smith­sonian’s National Museum of American History. The new museum; which is the Smith­sonian’s 19th, will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture.

Self Portrait with Checkered Scarf was painted in 2008 and was a part of a series of ten self-portraits that exhibited that fall in a show entitled In Shadow at Cole Pratt Gallery here in New Orleans.

“This series presented me with the challenge of exploring the deeper depths of the shadow with my face as the backdrop,” Blache, a NOCCA grad says. I found that the shadow, whether on objects or the human figure, is overlooked for its role when processing the overall form. Usually the shadow is used to set up the light on a form (that being an object or figure), typically where the focus of painting is, but I wanted to shift that focus and use light to set up its counterpart, the shadow. Almost like giving your talented background singer a solo on stage. There is a wonderful range of color to be found in the muteness of the shadow and I hope this particular series was successful in presenting that to the viewer.”

“The painting is part of a series created by Blache to study the effects of color, light, and shadow on the human face,” says NMAAHC Curator, Tuliza Fleming. “The acquisition of Blache’s self-portrait helps fulfill our goal of owning and exhibition a stylistically, regionally, and culturally diverse array of contemporary art by African-American artists.”

Self Portrait is the second work of art by Blache, 36, to be acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, which was established in 1846. In 2011, the National Portrait Gallery acquired Cutting Squash, an iconic oil painting depicting our legendary “Queen of Creole Cuisine” Leah Chase, working in her kitchen at the renowned Dooky Chase Restaurant.

“The Leah Chase exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art was the most significant show I’ve had up to date,” Blache tells The Louisiana Weekly. “There are plenty of deserving artists who never get the opportunity to headline a solo exhibition at a major museum like NOMA and if they are that lucky it’s rare that it happens so early in ones career. I think it really hit me when I was driving up to the museum and saw the big banner of Cutting Squash hanging from NOMA’s columns. I still pinch myself when I think about it.”

The exhibition created the Leah Chase Fund, which helps artists gain exposure and perhaps the opportunity to have their work collected by NOMA, and/or possibly exhibited there as well.

Blache, who now lives and works in New York City, received his B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Savannah, Georgia and his M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in New York, New York. He has been included in fine art exhibitions with diverse artists such as Edgar Degas, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Robert Rauschen­berg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Blache is featured in “Colored Frames,” a documentary that shows the African-American visual arts experience from the Civil Rights Movement to the present and which PBS broadcasted nationally.
Like many artists from the Big Easy, Blache’s love of the craft became that of a career, with the culturally enriched city serving as inspiration.

“There’s an unspoken soul to the city along with a loud outspoken soul to the city too; I love that,” Blache says.

“Artist Richard Thomas took me under his wing while I was at NOCCA and was the first to show me that art can be fulfilling and financially viable,” Blache added.

The NMAAHC is presently scheduled to open on the (National) Mall in 2015.

To see more on the Smithson-ian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, go to nmaahc.si.edu, and for more on the work of Gustave Blache III, visit gustaveblache.com.

This article originally published in the November 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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