October 6, 2003 Vol. VIII, No. 4

"A Cloud of Witnesses," one of 35 Johnnie Lee Gray paintings in the upcoming Northridge exhibition, represents a sweeping view of African-American life.

'Rising Above Jim Crow' Exhibit Comes to Cal State Northridge

Works of South Carolina Artist Johnnie Lee Gray Depict Years of Segregation in South

Rising Above Jim Crow: The Paintings of Johnnie Lee Gray," an exhibition offering a self-taught South Carolina artist's personal vision of African-American life in the segregated South, will be hosted by Cal State Northridge—the sole West Coast venue—from Saturday, Oct. 11, to Saturday, Nov. 15.

Encompassing 35 paintings by Gray (1941–2000) as well as a selection of archival photographs and videotaped interviews, the exhibition will be open to visitors from noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at the Art Galleries.

Shirley Sims Gray, whose collection of her late husband's work forms the core of the exhibition, will participate in an Art Galleries talk at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 13.

The exhibition is sponsored by New York Life Insurance Co., also the sole corporate underwriter of the Thirteen/WNET New York series, "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow." KCET, Los Angeles' public television station, will re-broadcast the series on four consecutive Fridays, beginning at 10 p.m. October 31. In association with the television series, New York Life has underwritten an educational Web site (see accompanying story).

"We are honored to host the exhibition at Cal State Northridge," said President Jolene Koester. "These paintings provide a provocative look at a period of time in America's history, and what progress has and hasn't taken place in the country since the time of Jim Crow."

Raised in a sharecropper family and educated in segregated schools, Vietnam veteran Johnnie Lee Gray worked in textile mills and as a carpenter. He always viewed himself as an artist, having drawn since childhood, but did not begin to paint until he met and married Shirley Sims in 1978. At the time of his death, he had completed about 150 paintings.

Gray's artwork reflects a sense of family and community strength, the power of the African-American church, and the physical and spiritual migration of a people in search of a better life.

"Rising Above Jim Crow" represents a collaboration between the Art Galleries in the College of Arts, Media, and Communication, and the Department of History in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Exhibition curator Gwendolyn Everett, formerly of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, teaches art history at Howard University.

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