Artist Gerald Lovell paints people of color using thick layers of oils. Their skin literally rises from the flat surfaces, calling attention to itself. The young artist’s work is on display in his first solo show, “Sylvia, Sylvia,” at the Gallery by Wish in Little Five Points. The exhibit runs through March 29.
The title work shows two women — Lovell’s grandmother and sister — lounging on a bed, propping themselves up on their elbows.
“They’re both named Sylvia,” he tells “City Lights” producer Myke Johns. “My family did this weird thing where we’d recycle a lot of first names. So my grandmother and my sister’s name is Sylvia. And me and my dad share the same full name: Gerald Lovell Kennedy, that’s my dad’s name.”
The elder Lovell died a little over a year ago, and though the two were not close, it has had an impact on Gerald’s work.
“We didn’t have a really good relationship, but that was because of me,” he says. “I guess this is an honest attempt to bring my family into what I do because I’m really closed off and really distant.”
Lovell is black and Puerto Rican, and the subjects of all his paintings are people of color. When asked what is important to him about skin, Lovell references a track off Solange’s recent album, called “My Skin, My Logo.”
“That’s that,” he says. “In this society, our skin tone plays a factor in a lot of situations that we can’t even necessarily control at times. And so highlighting and emphasizing it is kind of like a badge of honor. I guess emphasis on it is like being proud of my own skin.”
Lovell last showed work at The Gallery by Wish in 2018 as part of a group show, “TRPL-DBL.” His portrait work has grown in scope since then. Perhaps the most eye-catching picture in the gallery is an enormous picture of a young woman sitting on a bicycle in a park. She wears a baby on her back. The lush greenery of Piedmont Park stretches behind them, and a scene that would have otherwise made a cool photo on Instagram is here rendered with the care and attention of a work of art.
Lovell’s focus on friends, family, and the everyday people in his life is significant, coupled with the attention he draws to their skin. These aren’t pictures of Civil Rights icons or scenes of protest. They’re just people of color living their lives.
“I think it’s super important to highlight these moments in time in which we’re just existing,” Lovell explains, “because people forget that it’s really important that we’re just existing right now. I try to capture scenes of people just lounging, because at the end of the day that itself is anti-oppression.”