I was immediately transported to another realm when I walked through the sliding glass doors to the exhibition Deep River at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.
I was immediately transported to another realm when I walked through the sliding glass doors to the exhibition Deep River at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The coolness of the space, the dimly set lighting, the dexterous drawings on wood, the chirping of birds, the dirt pile. Physical, yet at the same time ethereal. Metaphysical, even.
Deep River, the apotheosis of Whitfield Lovell’s artistic career, snakes the traveller through the gallery space, allowing for the engagement of individual and collective bodies of work. I couldn’t help to feel as if I were accompanying Huck and Jim along the Mississippi River. Figures and portraits, selected from old family photo albums and second hand shops, are rendered in conté crayon on reclaimed wood. These drawings are often paired with utilitarian objects, activating the work in a three dimensional way, providing depth and context to the audience. Feelings of nostalgia and a lived history found in these works further evoke a sense of sober contemplation.
Upon entering Lovell’s installation titled Deep River, in the last room, I became encapsulated into the ethos of the river. A body of water is projected along the encompassing walls, which resonated like abstract paintings in perpetual motion. Along with sounds of the native environment, the spiritual “Deep River” repeats a cappella, further activating the space into the realm of soundscape. Wood discs, variously sized, display portraits of long ago kin in charcoal, none rising in the same position, repeating the sense of motion along the perimeter of a dirt mound. The mound, symbolizing an island of hope and freedom, employs exhumed objects; artifacts from a time lost to the wane of time and mimic the concept of contraband, much like the figures orbiting around the heap in the center of this space, seeking freedom and solace from the status of second-class citizens and property.
The symbol of the river is one that has long been used in the canon of art and Lovell uses it to great effect. Transportation, the passage of time, commerce, and life are concepts that give deeper meaning to our understanding of our place along the St. Johns River. While a river can unite communities, it can also divide them. There is a history of hurt and division in our city that can be explored more deeply through the presence of this beautiful exhibition at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. This exhibition is timely for the residents of the River City and my hope is that it will allow us over the next several months to connect, think, and be proactive with our own past and current struggles as a community.
Thony Aiuppy holds an MFA in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a BFA in Painting/Drawing from the University of North Florida. He is a practicing visual artist, an art educator, and a contributing writer for MetroJacksonville.com. He lives in the historic Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and three children.