Finally went to see it last Thursday, it was really the most mentally taxing art I have ever looked at. There are 140 paintings. The watercolors were amazing. I've seen reproductions of them, and I've seen reproductions of watercolors where people have tried to imitate his "technique" but none of that prepares you for the watercolors in their actuality. Most of what they had on were landscapes, along with a couple of those bathers under the bridge. You could learn a lot from just hanging out in a room with them, really.
The same day I went to the Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, where the founder, David Driskell, was giving a talk. Driskell is a few years older than my father. His parents were sharecroppers. He sort of got into Howard University by showing up and just refusing to leave. Strange to think my father was at Howard at the same time -- what a universe of difference of experience! He gave a slide show that presented his earliest work through the stuff that he is doing now. He has been at this long enough to know that the idea about what you are doing is not what matters, it is that you endure at what you are doing, that you just keep going. So he didn't really comment on the variety of styles and subjects that he had moved through over a long career, you just had this sense of accumulation and movement. Which seems to me as it should be.
"Art," he said, "is a priestly calling." Made sense at the time, though I can't tell you why now.
Here's a phrase that he used that I liked: "...the spirit world and all that resides imaginatively on the side of the mind..."
The last slide he showed was of a tree in the garden of his house in Hyattsville (he is an incredible gardener and has this place in Maine -- oh me gawd). He had stuck different-colored glass bottles on the ends of some of the branches.
"This is the mysterious bottle tree that the neighbors ask me, 'What is it?' Sometimes I tell them it's a spirit tree, and then I don't have to worry about them any more."