Art that has been coming out of the urban core is often heavy on portraiture – characters, friends, family portrayed in both raw settings and historical and cultural context – especially in painting, especially from African-American artists. The work of Houston’s Robert Pruitt, currently showing at General Audience Presents up in North Miami, is one such example. But Miami has always lacked a strong black artistic infrastructure, and therefore we haven’t seen much significant work coming out of the community (with some notable exceptions). Enter the up-and-coming T. Elliot Mansa to help change that.
A graduate of New World School of the Arts, he uses some pretty gritty urban auto-biographical figures and symbols in his canvases. There are hip-hop aesthetics mixed in with African and Caribbean mythological references and colorings; he blurs distinct portraiture with expressive brush strokes and re-imagines colleagues as deities, then maybe collages in snippets from street signage, snippets from a corner-store wall.
He’s been working a bit under the radar here, but has just been accepted to the Yale MFA painting program – a rarefied club that in the past two decades has included just a few other Miamians, such as William Cordova, Luis Gispert and John Espinosa.
Bas Fisher Invitational (a Knight Arts grantee), now in its new home in downtown Miami, will be opening a short two-week show of Mansa’s work tonight, Friday, April 26, in order to honor this prestigious entry and also to help him pay for it. According to artist Naomi Fisher, who co-runs BFI, this is also a fundraising couple of weeks. “Mansa is a really smart and thoughtful guy who I’ve know for ages and have always hoped would have a door open to him so he could step up his art practice,” she says.
That door, she knows, had been very hard to unlock.
Unlike some forever trying to prove street cred, Mansa’s life needs no exaggeration. One of the only males in his family not to end up in jail (many of whom are the subjects of his portraits), he struggled against the life of drug-dealing and violence that surrounded him growing up with a single mother. When she died, he delved into painting, exploring the mother-son bond as well as the absent-father void in his works. He eventually reconnected to his father, only to see him die of cancer this spring. On the night of his funeral, he was accepted into Yale. The sales from any works in this exhibit will go directly to expenses to help open up new doors in Connecticut.
“Works of T. Elliot Mansa” opens Friday, April 26, 7-9 p.m. and runs through May 8, open then by appointment; Bas Fisher Invitational, 100 N.E. 11th St., Miami; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.basfisherinvitational.com.