Conte. Relief. Fresco. Wood. Digital Transfer. Paper. Fabric. Silkscreen. Lithograph. Metal. Monotype. Intaglio. To the printmaker enthusiast, these words wax poetic; to the experienced printmaker they are life sustaining. To make this comparison is not hyperbolic because being a well-trained printmaker takes more than blood, sweat, and tears. Great printmakers command patience. They are meticulous people who spend relentless hours in their studios overcoming their limitations and perfecting their craft one print at a time.
Visit with Rabéa Ballin, Ann Johnson, Delita Martin and Lovie Olivia, and you’ll understand what I mean. From personal experience, I know that Johnson and Olivia are easygoing and caregiving, but when I talk to them about their work, the fire in their bellies ignites a glow in their eyes and an ember in their voices. Not only have they gone to great lengths researching books, artifacts, heritage, literature, and language, but they have also gone a step further studying each other’s processes so that when I speak to one woman, I speak to all four.
Perhaps in a subconscious way, this is the meaning behind the naming of their 5th group exhibit, COAL. If you’ve seen previous shows, then you know that ROUX, STIR, bās, SUGA were about gathering, mixing and blending, but what’s the significance of COAL? The truth about literal coals is that one blazing rock can spark life into another before quickly forming a bed of heat. The same can be said about these sisters. They are the source of each other’s light, which can be seen by the synergy of their collective and the common thread that unites their stories. Few groups can work harmoniously for five consecutive years without causing at least one burning ember to turn into ash, but the women of ROUX dispel any malicious female stereotypes, and they refuse to outshine each other.
I can honestly say I have learned more history from these exhibits than any Texas textbook has offered me. Johnson’s intaglio prints introduced me to the rhythm of powwows; Martin’s satirical reliefs about hair returned me to a time when black was not so beautiful; Ballin’s #sixwordstories had me running to look up whatever I could find about plaçage; and Olivia’s use of found objects to symbolize Henrietta Lack’s immortal cells led to my teaching her biography to my college freshmen. With each body of work, my appreciation for the groundwork of our ancestors deepens and their experiences become less esoteric.
I may never become a printmaker one day, but I know for sure that as long as these women work together, my heart will burn with a desire to learn as much as I can about printmaking. Fortunately for us, as long as we have ROUX, the art form will kindle, the stories will rouse us, and there will be no need to worry about the flame dying out.
Ann 'Sole Sister' Johnson is an artist who paints portraits with her feet. Yes her feet!!!!! Born in London, England and raised in Cheyenne, WY, Ann is a graduate of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, (where she now teaches) and received a BS in Home Economics. She has also received an MA in Humanities from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, as well as an MFA from The Academy of Art University, in San Francisco. In 2011 she received the distinguished Presidents Faculty of the year award from Prairie View A&M. Primarily a mixed media artist, Johnson’s passion for exploring issues particularly in the Black community has led her to create series’ of works that are evocative and engaging. Her series It Is The Not Knowing That Burns My Soul, examining the “Black Indian, was included in a catalog and exhibition titled: Indivisible for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She has been invited to teach at Tougaloo Art Colony in Jackson, MS in 2009, 2011, and 2015. She was a Prize winner in Houston’s “The Big Show” in 2004, and was the Mixed Media winner in the Carroll Harris Simms National Black Art Competition in 2007. She was also included in the 2013 Texas Biennial. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, and the International Review of African American Art. She has exhibited at The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX, The Museum of Printing History, Houston, TX, The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture, Montgomery, AL, The Apex Museum in Atlanta, GA, and the California African American Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Johnson is represented by Hooks Epstein Galleries, in Houston, TX.
Born in Germany, raised in southern Louisiana, Rabéa Ballin
received her informal training from her mother who was a friseur and salon owner. The cultural shifts resulting from being the daughter of an American soldier and a European mother resulted in a sensitive awareness of the power and politics of hair. Her scrutiny of the sculptural aspects of hair began with her self-taught hair braiding practice. The cross pollination of untold histories and hair are the core elements of her work.
Rabéa holds an MFA (University of Houston), and a BFA (McNeese State University). During her years at McNeese she returned to Germany to attend the Goethe Institute, subsequently studying Art History in Rome and Florence, Italy. Currently an assistant professor of art, Rabéa is living and working in Houston’s historical Third Ward community.
I am an interdisciplinary artist who’s practice employs Fresco (buon and secco) with the addition of digital fresco (monotype) and sgrafitto (scratch) to create paintings, objects, installations and discourse around issues of gender, sexuality, race, class and power. These works represent my interest in beautiful, historical, mythical, ornamental and patterned human histories. My approach to painting reemerges the art of fresco, honors the zeal of figurative painting and explores new adaptations to old traditions. With these bodies of work I’m compelled to push boundaries and comingle materials and techniques used to express the copious layers of powerful women of color inclusive of anonymous, invisible and rarely celebrated history makers.
These works are at times autobiographical - a blend of self-explorations and visual observations. What I experience, desire and witness is communicated through a catalog of figures, signifiers, symbols, and materials. By employing the ageless process of fresco and sgraffitto, paper cutting, and found objects, I fulfill my aesthetic appetite.
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