If the rarified, white-walled interiors of art galleries can seem far removed from everyday life, Sedrick Huckaby’s art might be the antidote. His paintings and drawings give place of pride to ordinary people — family members and people from the Fort Worth, Tex., neighborhood where he lives — as well as quilts, a homely object central to his personal history and broader American culture. In large-scale canvases, Huckaby imbues quilts with monumental presence and painterly texture; his portraits perform the same work on faces and personalities, embracing subjects well worn with love and normal hardships.
“I want them to have a type of reality to them, almost documentary in a certain way, where it really tells certain truths about life,” Huckaby says.
On Friday, the University of Tampa’s printmaking workshop, STUDIO-f, celebrates Huckaby with an open house and display of the monoprints he has created there during a residency over the past two weeks. At the same time, UT’s Scarfone/Hartley Gallery (adjacent to STUDIO-f) showcases a selection of Huckaby’s drawings and paintings, including his suite of four 7-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide paintings of draped quilts, A Love Supreme (2001-2009)
. The monoprints will show how Huckaby has been working to translate his chosen subjects and confident style of draftsmanship into the medium of screenprinting with UT printers, including Carl Cowden III.
“It’s a collaboration in that I’m trying to work the way that he works, and he’s working with the way we have to work with the process,” Cowden says.
The 38-year-old artist is an anomaly. Huckaby grew up in Fort Worth but moved away to pursue the gold standard in art education, an MFA in painting from Yale, after a BFA at Boston University. A 2008 Guggenheim fellowship and other honors have given him the kind of credentials that artists typically try to leverage into international careers, but Huckaby returned to Fort Worth to start a family and, as life unfolded, to make his surrounding community into one of the subjects of his art.
Through his confident handling of paint (and, in other work on view here, a lithographic pencil), Huckaby’s subjects gain universal appeal. The quilts are rendered as massive folds of patterned drapery that want to embrace a viewer, embodying both the monumental aura of abstract expressionist canvases and cozy domesticity. They are organized into a seasonal suite of colors, from warm summer to comparatively icy winter, and possess a delightful dimensionality up close, where fabric patterns are revealed as lovingly built-up in thick impasto daubs — a painterly method that echoes the careful, but creative and improvisational way quilts are stitched together.
The title of the series, A Love Supr
, after the John Coltrane jazz composition, bolsters their association with that most noble of emotions.
“The idea is starting at a basic kind of love, like that of a mother for her children or a grandmother for her children, with the quilts,” Huckaby says.
“The thought is that, like seasons revolve, you can think about love in multiple ways. So it’s not just about the love of a grandmother. As you look and contemplate, on one level you might think about a connection with the music ... then the seasons ... then about the cycle of life. Alternately, I hope it would lead you to a place of thinking about a greater love, a love of God.”
The span of life, from birth to death, is the subject of two of Huckaby’s other oil paintings, which depict his grandmother and grandfather in the waning days of their lives. Set in the same bedroom about a decade apart, the images bring tenderness to an experience rarely made visible in contemporary art.
A third project called The 99 Percent
focuses on members of his Fort Worth community. Loosely inspired by Occupy Wall Street, Huckaby began visiting public spaces in his neighborhood — the gas station, the Waffle House — to draw and talk to anyone who would let him. As a result, he’s made more than 100 small but robustly drawn portraits, some of which are captioned with a statement from a conversation between Huckaby and his subject about economic stress or political frustration. A selection of the images, which he made into lithographs during a residency in Pennsylvania last year, are on display here.
It’s refreshing that there’s no obscure conceptual angle to Huckaby’s work — just an earnest desire to grapple with the everyday world, and people in it, through drawing and painting.
“It might be that my work is a little too conservative for some groups, but it doesn’t concern me too much,” Huckaby
“One of the things I have found out about art making is that our culture values uniqueness. Some of that uniqueness is a totally different form of art, where you come up with some unique idea. Or you can work in ways that have been worked in before, but you do it your way. That’s more the line that I follow. I’m not trying to make something that’s never been made, but I’m trying to do my own unique take on it.
See Huckaby's works through Feb. 22 at the University of Tampa Scarfone/Hartley Gallery and STUDIO-f; open-studio and gallery reception on Fri., Feb. 21, at 6 p.m., 310 N. Boulevard, Tampa, 813-253-6217, gallery.utarts.com, studiof.utarts.com.