In the wake of World War II, as the United States ascended to superpower status and its Senate became paranoid about a developing Iron Curtain, a tension began to evolve in the then-called "Negro" community that spilled over, into the mainstream white society in the forms of music jazz, and art a jazz riff on abstract impressionism.
That surmises the feelings of Mary Anne Rose, curator of the African American Abstract Masters show opening with a reception at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation on Saturday, Aug. 28, from 3-5 p.m.
Rose, who holds a doctorate in art education from Columbia University Teachers College, brings a unique perspective to the party she knew most of the artists in the exhibit.
Because of her rare combination of qualifications, Rose was personally selected by Anita Shapolsky a year and a half ago to curate a showing of African American abstract masters in Jim Thorpe.
"Anita knew a number of the artists because she showed them at her New York gallery," Rose said. "She wanted abstract expressionist artists. I looked to that period of work to pull something together that reflected her interests and her gallery.
"I came up with 10 different artists that ranged in birth dates from 1914 to 1937 a wide spread. It covered the first and second generations of abstract expressionists. The youngest artist was the only woman in the show," she added.
"Pulling the people together really excited me. I had met most of these artists over time in New York City, and a handful in Europe where I met my husband, Herbert Gentry."
Among the African American artists represented in the exhibit, many began their careers during the WPA (Works Progress Administration) period a period that evokes the social realism of murals and posters leading into World War II, and then they fought in World War II.
Following World War II, the fledgling Cold War, and its offshoot the blacklisting period of the House Un-American Committee, the perceived as socialist, Social Realism, was out of favor. In its place came a new music, jazz with non-offensive scat singing, and abstract expressionism a figure-free, gestural art form. These were a new American art an art that the U.S. government was willing to support.
While willing to support White abstract expressionism art during the postwar era, it was less willing to support the work of Black artists. Returning from near first class citizenship while serving their country, these African American artists were more uncomfortable than ever being denied access to exhibits.
"They weren't included in shows then," said Rose. "They are a stick-to-it, believe-in-yourself kind of human being that doesn't quit just because of a few rejections."
Many artists, either Afro-American or married to African American, as was Rose both musicians and painters moved to Europe. From 1978 to 1980, Rose was a resident artist at the Cite International des Arts in Paris, France, where she met the American painter Herbert Gentry.
They traveled to Sweden to paint and exhibited in Scandinavia. They married in Denmark in 1983 and began to spend part of each year in New York City.
At openings and workshops in New York and Europe, Herbert and Rose met the African American artists in the show.
Unlike the first generation of White American abstract expressionists who gathered at the Bauhaus bar in New York City, these African American artists tended to work alone, rarely meeting one another.
"Because of the isolation, they had their own approach," Rose noted. "Most people recognize African American art as a kind of a narrative art that tells a story as figurative, as came out of the WPA program. Even more difficult because of that expectation for the abstract artist. There was a struggle during that period for recognition.
"Thematically, a number of them were influenced by jazz," she said. "It can be a very trite statement, but I think it aught to be thought of in a broader sense. If you can't relate to a picture or a story, you connect to other things. Most abstract work, which was dealing with the action or gesture of painting, was closely related to musical translation. So jazz was perfect.
"It was a new movement as well. Today's heavyweights of jazz or bebop, young musicians of the late 30s to early 50s, like Herb Gentry, had galleries in Paris where bebop started."
The exhibit, African American Abstract Masters features 22 paintings and collages from artists: Betty Blayton, Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Herbert Gentry, Bill Hutson, Sam Middleton, Joe Overstreet, Thomas Sills, Merton Simpson and Frank Wimberley.
African American Abstract Masters runs from Aug. 28-Oct. 18 at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, 20 W. Broadway, Jim Thorpe.
For more information, call (570) 325-5815, or visit www.asartfoundation.org.