Longtime artist transforms wall near Fridman
Last month, a solo exhibition of paintings and textiles by Dindga McCannon opened at the Fridman Gallery in Manhattan. About the same time, the gallery’s owner, Iliya Fridman, asked McCannon if she would address an empty wall near the entrance of his gallery’s Beacon outlet at 475 Main St. that was crying out for a mural.
“I knew that Dindga had painted five or six murals in New York City that all have been erased or demolished,” he explained. (One of her murals, in East Harlem, survived for more than 40 years; the others were painted over when the buildings changed ownership.)
McCannon agreed to the request. After traveling to Beacon to see the wall, she decided on a painting with the title “Maybe If the Mothers of the World Unite We Could All Live in Peace.”
“My son, Harmarkhis, and I worked on it together,” she says. “The idea and title reflect the fact we seem to be living in hell right now — not that that has changed from one generation to another. Such turmoil led me to think what would happen if women ruled the world. Women feel the brunt of pain from the war going on in the streets. A child grows inside of women, so perhaps they’re a little more connected. If everybody united, perhaps we would slow the wars down a bit.”
The solo show at the Fridman Gallery in Manhattan, In Plain Sight, is the most recent acknowledgement of the 74-year-old McCannon’s ascendance; it is the first major solo show in her five-decade career and was cemented by the sale of one of her oil paintings in April at Swann Gallery. The work, “The Last Farewell,” was expected to sell for up to $40,000 and realized $161,000.
Soon after that sale, McCannon was approached by four galleries, including Fridman, expressing interest in representing her.
“Fridman not only wanted to sell my art, they wanted to make sure my career is sustained for the rest of my life,” she said of her choice to partner with Iliya. “The other galleries were mostly interested in my older works, but Fridman accepted the whole package: the fine arts, the fiber arts. I’ve always fought against being pigeonholed as one particular type of artist.”
Asked if she is enjoying the recent attention on her work, McCannon says: “I’ve always been renowned in my own art world. Now I am in the greater art world. It feels OK, but really, I’ve been doing fairly well in my own art world.”
That world began in Harlem, where McCannon was born and raised. She now lives in Philadelphia, which she feels “is cheaper and kinder to senior citizens. Had I stayed in New York, I would have had to teach” to pay the bills.
As a young woman, McCannon studied under members of what became known as the Harlem Renaissance and joined what she calls “intentional groups” — artists who shared a common cause, whether it was civil rights or feminist advocacy. She went on to become a pillar in the African American art collective Weusi and co-founded Where We At Black Women Artists.
For decades, McCannon has run her own apparel company. “I did wearable art,” she says. “I could sell clothing more easily than paintings and it’s not too far removed from fine art. My audience is mostly African American women. I use a lot of textiles from Africa.”
Looking ahead, McCannon says that “being able to be in the studio as much or as long as I want, with no ifs and buts, is what I’m after. I hope to make 100, but in the event that I don’t, at least I was able to live the way I want: to create art with no strings attached and no immediate worries.”
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