A Summer of Visual Arts and Artists


The geometric design resembles a quilt, to symbolize the collective history of Newark

This summer I finally fulfilled my desire to paint a self portrait. The portrait turned out to be a triptych in acrylic paint and it certainly shows my novice level, but who cares? In the journey to painting, I met a community of artists, got hip to a few art supply stores, seriously pondered cooking as art (duh, culinary arts), and walked through Newark Museum’s Romare Bearden exhibition with enlightenment-level clarity of form and content. Because I never really had a vocabulary for fine arts outside of literature, I thought ‘form and content’ was a literary science.

To my surprise, the visual arts mood of my summer culminated in a day with Gladys Barker Grauer. Ms. Gladys, who opened the first African American art gallery in Newark and is a founding member of Black Women in Visual Pespective, is 89 years old and quite spry. She walks on her treadmill every morning and has several art projects in the works. Not only did Ms. Gladys fix dinner for her two guests (my friend who knows her as a mentor at City Without Walls made the invite happen), but she politely excused our offer to wash even one dish.

Ms. Gladys showed me her life-size installation of a homeless woman and the woman’s accompanying shopping cart that included plastic-bagged toiletries and a photo album. Ms. Gladys got the idea from a news story about a homeless woman whose belongings were burned and who cried to police about missing photos of her family. The artist also talked about the incident that made her more known than her art—censorship of her art.  Honestly, and I pierce at the universality of my own words, I haven’t met a more sincere group of people than the Newark art community. I’ll go further into the abyss—no community that I’ve known even comes close. It’s really about the art.

I videotaped some of our discussions with Ms. Gladys initially hoping to share my full experience. I wanted some younger person to discover my video or words and be impressed by her knowledge and approach to art—my god, her historical and artistic knowledge! But now, I want to keep the moments and share her art. I think all the moments are there anyway. For a page with a few images in one place for Gladys Barker Grauer click here.

P.S. I’m checking out murals in Newark and elsewhere (Mural Locator) now that it’s been pointed out to me that my building is across the street from one done by Jerry Gant. See with your eyes, Zahra!

image of artist working in her Atlanta studio