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Side-By-Each: Avanna Duff, Pat Kewley, & Larell Potter

Opening Reception: Friday, February 4, 2022

On-view through March 11, 2022


With fragmented facial features dissolving into various forms of abstraction, Avanna Duff’s paintings act as visual approximations of the compromises made between what she describes as “emotion and experience” from the intersectional vantage of a black, female artist.  The facial features she uses are both representations and archetypes; images of her as well as symbols.  The weight of her vantage appears in the reserved, introspective body language of the figures, which only tentatively address the viewer.  That weight is made lighter by the exuberance of the painting technique, the discursions into abstraction, and the enthusiastic colors.


Pat Kewley is somewhat of a personality played out over many formats: comedic routines at art events dressed as historical characters.  Casually drawn comics with an episodic, leftfield humor.  Hosting a radio program of obscure soul tunes called “Make With the Shake”.  What I find interesting about his recent collages is how the humor that often guides Kewley’s work is secondary, as if the gag went into hibernation and we see only its footsteps leading to a cave.  In writing about the work, he talks of the fragmented nature of found-image collage being an appropriate companion to the fractures in routine lobbed at us by the pandemic.  The collage’s compositional playfulness seems to reflect this.  Not concerned with adding up to a unified theme or an easy image, they are free to amass as they will and allow Kewley’s temperament to occupy them however obliquely it may.


Larell Potter illustrates an inner world where self-reflection is played out through imagined characters, both positive and negative.  Some characters express a celebratory mindset toward creativity and radical openness.  Others are more villainous, acting as specters of doubt and criticism.  Potter’s many inquisitive abstractions are both play and reinforcement, allowing him to experiment while also lending credibility to the creative assertions of the protagonists in his world.  His preference for working over found materials underscores this as well, making good on the open-minded creative mantras in the work.  As he says, “everything has the possibility to be turned into art,” be it discarded cardboard or cognitive dissonance.


There are affinities between Larell Potter’s creative strivings and Avanna Duff’s mix of pensive figures and loud abstraction.  Similarly, there’s a shared background of working through struggle with creative action.  Pat Kewley’s collages are more compromise than struggle, but there are similarities in how he leans into creativity as a response to a trying situation.  The work in the exhibition is also aligned by their playfulness with image creation, albeit done so in very different manners.



My paintings function as a reflection of myself and my experiences as a young Black woman artist.  Through vivid colors and various brush strokes, I explore the intersection of emotion and experience—where happiness, sadness, joy, distrust, anticipation, anger and fear live. In sharing my work freely to the public, I hope that people can find an aspect to connect and resonate with. I welcome imperfections in my work and feel that they lend themselves to a genuineness that is often lacking in contemporary art. 


The emotional, physical, and psychological implications Black womanhood portray racial, political, and social concerns that I’ve experienced firsthand. In each work, the subject is an iteration of myself, navigating the isolating tension of being artistically inclined, Black, and female in a larger social context that rarely celebrates these categories. I intentionally layer different shades of paint and emphasize full lips, wide noses, and wide eyes to represent how aspects of Blackness are interjected by outside forces in a seemingly endless cycle, and the liminal state that I’ve embodied since childhood and reference as an adult. 


The way I proportion figures in the composition of my work is greatly influenced by Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist well known for her portraits and paintings that included Mexican landscapes and artifacts. The way Kahlo interrogates concepts of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society inspires me to continue to assess my environment and its impact on my life and work. While the faces of most of the subjects in my work appear emotionless, they indicate ambiguity and a deep awareness and hesitancy to engage in their environment. However, the vibrance of the backgrounds signifies their inherent playfulness and joy that directly contrasts the restrictive, complex circumstances I have and continue to face.


As a performer, after the pandemic killed live events I had to find a new creative outlet to sustain me in quarantine. My standbys of writing and illustrating didn't feel adequate - I needed something more open-ended and less dependent on sitting down with a pre-formed idea, and I found myself more attracted to the meditative practice of collage. As I tried to deal with the way that my life and the world had fragmented and re-ordered themselves, re-ordering fragments of images suddenly made intuitive sense as a way of dealing with things. Even though they don't refer to anything in my life directly, these collages have been functioning as my pandemic diary, a sideways way of representing the dissonance and surreal insanity of the last 2 years. 


“Life is art, art is life.”

This is Larell Potter’s philosophy. Gifted with the ability to refresh the overlooked tidbits of everyday life, Larell reclaims the discarded. Adding images influenced by TV or embossing these castoffs into glistening treasures, he revitalizes the world into a distinct narrative that is completely his own. “Everything has the possibility to be turned into art”.

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