Artist Blog

Artist delivers ‘Jubilation’ to ’Burg

The old Walker–Grant School, a three-story brick structure built in 1938, was Fredericksburg’s first publicly supported school for black children—and Stanley White’s high school.

Though the students had to borrow a telescope from nearby James Monroe High School and teachers often purchased their own art supplies, White found the environment comfortable.

In 1968, when Fredericksburg fully integrated its schools, White and his fellow Walker–Grant classmates were sent to James Monroe, where he finished his senior year.

He gained access to endless reams of construction paper—but, in an environment that still wasn’t all that welcoming to black students, he also gained a sense of alienation.

He found solace in his art. Now White, who goes by the name Ayokunle Odeleye, is a professional sculptor and art professor in Georgia. His public sculptures are displayed all over, including Alaska, Texas and Maryland—and, as of Saturday, downtown Fredericksburg.

Odeleye has been working on a sculpture, commissioned by St. George’s Episcopal Church, which will be unveiled Saturday in the rose garden at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. The creation honors the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The 4-foot high sculpture has been dubbed “Jubilation” by its creator. The figure personifies freedom, with a prominent set of bronze arms preparing to release a dove into the sky.

“It reflects joy and celebration,” said Odeleye. “It’s the celebration of one knowing one is completely free as a person.”

TURNING TO ART

Local artist Johnny Johnson taught art to Odeleye at Walker–Grant and at James Monroe, but their relationship really flourished during the young artist’s senior year. No longer a starter on the basketball team at his new school, Odeleye had more time to discuss and create art.

“I think he was very much concerned whether or not he was treated fairly by the basketball coach at James Monroe. I told him, ‘You try to focus on your art,’” recalled Johnson.

And he did. That year, Odeleye won a “Best in Show” award for a painting, and displayed other works in shows in Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania and Culpeper. He also had exhibits in local restaurants.

Johnson steered Odeleye, “towards the path of productive behavior and positive self-esteem in a small Southern town that could be hard on black youths,” according to the sculptor.

The tension associated with integration at James Monroe often sapped the spirits of black students, Johnson recalled.

He described the way try-outs for cheerleading at James Monroe left out black cheerleaders during the initial year of assimilation. He explained that the James Monroe squad had been pre-selected the previous spring, before the black cheerleaders had a chance to audition for a spot.

“But you keep in mind the black kids lost their Walker–Grant Tigers—their school. They shouldn’t lose their identity as being an integral part,” Johnson said.

Fredericksburg stayed largely segregated even after the assimilation took place. Odeleye said that he and many of the students from Walker–Grant stayed together in groups. Many were from Mayfield, a black community at that time.

“It [James Monroe] wasn’t really home for us,” he said. “But I stayed closely involved in art.”

Johnson described Odeleye as an active supporter of the civil rights movement through his art and ideals. The push of African–American culture into a Eurocentric-dominated society would later be the theme of many of Odeleye’s works.

PURSUING A DREAM

Johnson encouraged Odeleye to apply to Virginia Commonwealth University, and he was honored with a partial scholarship from Johnson’s fraternity. He went from there to Howard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s degree in sculpture.

Along with theory and technique, Odeleye studied African–American art, American history and other social issues surrounding African–Americans at the time.

He now uses this research and creativity to create public sculptures out of wood, bronze, stainless steel and other materials.

Pensacola, Fla., is the home of his 3-foot tall Martin Luther King Jr. bust crafted from bronze, while Atlanta houses his 48-inch-high, 72-inch-long mahogany piece titled “Struggles and Achievements of African American Women.”

Odeleye creates art for public spaces partly as a way to “define, energize and humanize urban environments,” and also to leave pieces of himself behind on this Earth as his legacy.

The artist is currently a professor of art at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and, besides that, works on design and fabrication at Odeleye Sculpture Studios.

His newest creation will counter the negative aspects of Fredericksburg’s past, a visual already represented by the slave auction block on the corner of William and Charles streets, according to the artist.

Johnson said his former student has grown into an artist who inspires him.

“He’s a good role model, not just for black students, but for any student who wants to live a dream,” said Johnson.

WANT TO SEE?

Ayokunle Odeleye, a James Monroe High School graduate, will unveil his sculpture “Jubilation” Saturday at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center.

The piece, commissioned by St. George’s Episcopal Church, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The unveiling will take place after a 10 a.m. service at the church, 905 Princess Anne St., and a “witness walk” to the museum at William and Princess Anne streets.

See images of Odeleye’s work in progress at stgeorgesepiscopal.net/galleries/view/993 and see more of his pieces at odeleyesculpturestudios.com

Charlotte Rodina: 540/374-5444
crodina@freelancestar.com





Public Artist’s Retrospective in final week at MOCA GA

After 32 years creating public sculpture, Ayokunle Odeleye reflects on the responsibility of art in the public domain

By Rosalind Bentley

Ayokunle Odeleye saw the older woman watching him from across the street, but he kept working.

Years before, he had forged the towering monument “Spirit, Family and Community,” a gleaming bronze sculpture on a corner in the Peoplestown neighborhood. The piece was created as part of the public art program meant to spruce up pockets of Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics.

But it had been a while since the Olympics, and it had been a while since the bronze looked lustrous, so Odeleye (pronounced Oh-da-LAY-yay) was out polishing it.

“Hey, hey, take your hands off that,” Odeleye remembers the older woman yelling at him.

“I’m the artist, I did this,” Odeleye replied, and he pointed to his signature at the base of the piece for emphasis.

“Unhuh, yeah, I don’t care, that’s our art, so get your hands off it,” the woman said.

That’s when Odeleye knew that, tarnished or not, as a work of public art the piece was a success.

“When you do a piece of work that people find valuable and meaningful they protect it,” Odeleye said recently. “And when you’re a public artist you really are a contractor of community identity.”

An artist knows that once he creates a work of art specifically for the public domain — no matter how connected he might feel to the piece — once it’s placed in a community, in many ways it’s not really his anymore, signature or not. As one of the nation’s most prolific public artists, Ayokunle Odeleye is clear on that.

Today begins the final week of a show of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.

The show “Ayokunle Odeleye: Thirty-Two Years of Public Art” is a retrospective. The sheer scale of most works of public art often prevents putting several pieces in a single dedicated space for a retrospective, outside of perhaps a major sculpture garden. So, many such retrospectives of the art form are done through drawings. This is the case with Odeleye’s show, but it is enlivened by lovely architectural models of nearly every piece in the retrospective, which spans his work from Alaska to Florida, with emphasis on Georgia.

The viewer walks through Odeleye’s career in miniature. There is a glowing bronze oar, meant to memorialize an 1898 massacre in Wilmington, N.C. While the model at MOCA GA is barely 4-feet tall, in Wilmington, where the actual monument stands, there are six such oars, each rising 16 feet. The tiny, sinuous, mahogany model of “Linear Figure” is in its own way as resonant as the 12-foot stainless steel sculpture it inspired, which now stands on the Clayton State University campus in Morrow.

Ironically, Odeleye, who is also an art professor at Kennesaw State University, has done very little gallery work in his career, instead focusing almost exclusively on creating commissioned pieces. Some see it as restrictive since that sort of work must please more viewers, and stakeholders, than the artist. But as a young art student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s, during the height of the Black Power movement, it was drilled into Odeleye that an African-American artist had to carry the burden of representing the underserved. It was also expected that an African-American artist would represent his community visually and positively.

“Ayo came from that school that says art isn’t for art’s sake, it’s done for a reason that is political or social,” said Kevin Cole, a longtime colleague of Odeleye’s and fellow visual artist. “It’s not just about creating for the sake of it, it’s about changing things.”

Looking through the retrospective it’s clear that this principle has guided the projects he has bid for and won, from work for a juvenile detention center in Richmond to an abstract totem in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood. But an artist’s personal passion is not enough for a piece of public art to work, as evidenced by the recent controversies surrounding the Living Walls Project murals and a painting removed from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after it prompted complaints from viewers. For a piece of public art to truly work it must have community buy-in.

Rather than finding that notion restrictive or repellent, Odeleye seems to thrive on it, going back to a neighborhood again and again to get input from residents and others.

“He goes into these community meetings, not as a fly on the wall but as a willing participant,” said Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.” He has a keen and intent ear, and he goes the extra mile to ensure the community’s concerns and voices are infused in each piece.”

Which is what Odeleye did in designing the Peoplestown piece, even though his original vision of the work was something very different than what residents had in mind. But he listened to them. And now, years after its installation, there is a fondness for it on the part of the artist and community.

“You can’t have an elitist attitude,” Odeleye said. “When you come into the public domain, you have a greater responsibility.”

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Event Preview

“Ayokunle Odeleye: Thirty-Two Years of Public Art”

10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Today and Tuesday through Sat. Jan. 12; Free; Museum of Modern Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett St., Atlanta, www.mocaga.org or 404-367-8700;

At the show’s closing event on Jan. 12, Odeleye will be part of a panel discussion with noted sculptors including Maria Artemis and Curtis Patterson, about the responsibilities of the public artist. Discussion begins at 2 p.m. at MOCA GA. Free.

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Original Article: http://www.ajc.com/news/entertainment/public-artists-retrospective-in-final-week-at-moca/nTmKW/





Ayokunle Odeleye, Sculptor, and Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University

Ayokunle Odeleye, Sculptor, and Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University

Ayokunle Odeleye, Sculptor, and Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University

Ayokunle Odeleye, Sculptor, and Dr. Carlton Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University, shake hands on December 14th, 2012 after signing of the contract in which Odeleye Sculpture Studios has been commissioned to create a bronze bust of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois for permanent placement on the campus of Clark Atlanta University. In the background are Dr. Stephanie Evans, Chair of the CAU history department and Dr. Candy Tate, history professor at Emory University.