Charly Palmer Explores The History Of Black Americans And Their African Heritage In Hammonds House Exhibit

A retrospective of works by American artist Charly Palmer comes to the Hammonds House Museum this summer. A fine artist, muralist, and illustrator of children’s books, Palmer’s paintings and mixed media works explore themes of African-American identity. The new exhibition, “Departure,” will show works never before seen by the public, as well as new pieces created expressly for this event. Charly Palmer joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about “Departure” and the multiple meanings of the word, and the history of Black America and African origins told through his art.

Interview highlights:

On the show’s name, ‘Departure,’ and what inspired it:

“The title came from a conversation I had with the previous director at Hammonds House, where I was explaining two particular pieces, ‘Father and Son,’ that I did specifically for the show. And they are shadowboxes, but they come with a soundtrack… and she mentioned, ‘This is quite a departure for you.’ And it was like, ‘You know what, I had not been able to figure out what the name of the show was going to be until you said that,’” recalled Palmer.

“That has so many meanings to me… there’s a work in the show called ‘Becoming,’” said Palmer. “Rarely do I start a piece without having an idea of what I’m trying to say, but ‘Becoming’ was about the African coming from Africa through the Middle Passage, through slavery, through protest and the civil rights movement, and then projecting the future, and this piece represents all of that, and it also comes with a soundtrack.”

Flowers, a recurring image: 

“The last two years, it’s been flowers. Flowers have been an ongoing theme throughout the work, and I actually have a show that’s opening in Martha’s Vineyard, at Nowhere Gallery in August, and it’s called ‘Give Them Flowers.’ Because the theme of, ‘I want my flowers while I’m still here,’ comes up a lot… I can go back to the past and address flowers, but what about now? And I can talk about, like, an award that I just recently received, and it’s like, ‘Ok, great, I can get my flowers while I’m still here.’”

“My mom was my hero… When my mom transitioned, and she passed… I went through a depression of a year where I attempted to create, but I couldn’t find anything in me. And I created a piece, shortly after about a year, and it was a little boy who was holding a huge bouquet of flowers,” said Palmer. “The name of the piece is ‘Not Enough Flowers.’ And I realized it was me, being represented by this little boy… And that’s where the flowers began.”

An exhibition bridging past and present:

“It is 30 years of work… I have always typically worked in series, and so it’s a very broad range of themes because I started off telling the… narrative of the journey of the African-American, through my own lens,” said Palmer. “I have a series called ‘Silent Series,’ where I used American flags, and it’s addressing the idea of your right as an American to speak out against injustice.”

“[The piece ‘Unarmed’] is a nude Black man with his back to the viewer, and he’s standing in front of a bunch of police officers in riot gear, and behind them is the White House. And someone asked me, did it represent George Floyd? And I’m like, no, I’ve been painting this kind of subject for a long time, because this is something that has been going on for a long time,” said Palmer. He went on, “I’m trying to make a statement about the treatment of Black bodies, but I’ve been working on that subject for at least ten years.”

“Departure” is on view at Hammonds House Museum from June 25 through Aug. 1.