Masters of Their Craft: Elijah Pierce and Leroy Almon Exhibit at The Good Luck Gallery
Through July 15th
By Sydney Walters
Wood carving has a diverse history of being used as weapons, sculptures and three-dimensional relief carvings. Elijah Pierce harnessed the nuances of this medium during a wood carving career spanning nearly nine decades. As mentor to artist Leroy Almon, this exhibit showcases both of these renowned artists who percolate visions of psychology, religion and history through wooden ornamentation.
Elijah Pierce, the acclaimed mentor in this exhibition duo, was the youngest son of a former slave in Mississippi. Pierce began carving small animals and figures with a pocketknife as a child and later refined his dexterity with the blade becoming a distinguished barber. Barber by day, sculptor by night, Pierce leaves a legacy of enchanting American folk art. Delicately carved animals are displayed on short shelves in a playfully unsystematic composition. Wild animals that might roam African plains such as a hippo, a snake, a lion and a giraffe are carved open mouthed with their delicate wooden tongues jutting out between their jaws.
On the adjacent wall, Pierce showcases colorful portraits, still lifes, and religious impressions. The most notably different from among these is his 1979 piece, God. It is a small shelving unit, with saw tooth or battlement ridges along the shelves and top of the unit. Two hand painted crosses are on either side of the shelves and the entire piece is splashed with gold glitter. It suggests that God resides in the ordinary and that humans, born empty vessels ready to stock a life’s worth of experiences, are glistening with divine radiance.
Although Leroy Almon’s work is preoccupied with the spiritual, he takes more of an interest in the devil and sinful nature. He explores the complex psychology of the seen and unseen and specifically delves into temptation and alter egos. In Woman (Devil in a Blue Dress), a woman is split down the middle. On the right side, she clutches a green purse and wears a formal light-blue dress, on the left side, an angry red devil wields a sword. It pays homage to medieval Christ Pantocrators which are Byzantine renderings of Christ that contort his facial expressions into his two natures, fully God and fully human. In Almon’s imaginings, the woman is fully demon and fully human.
In Slavery Times, Almon divides the wood reliefs into horizontal sections creating atmospheric perspective. The composition is divided roughly into thirds. At the top, an overseer rides a horse through a field while slaves bend over picking cotton. The middle section is occupied by four slave cabins and beneath these living quarters, a woman cooks over an open flame while children jump rope nearby. A loosely slatted fence separates the children from livestock suggesting that in the overseer’s eyes, there is little to no distinction between human and animal.
Though Almon and Pierce both discuss race and religion in their work, they infuse each piece with their unique ideology thus presenting a robust assemblage of work that delightfully blurs the line between profession and play.
The Good Luck Gallery
945 Chung King Road (Chinatown)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Wednesday – Sunday
Noon – 6PM and by appointment