The stories of the Underground Railroad are some of the most powerful in American history.
“Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad,” an exhibition of 50 paintings, etchings and drawings by Joseph Holston tells some of those stories at the N.C. Central Art Museum now through Dec. 13.
Holston’s visual interpretation and expression of human experiences and emotions “capture the essence of the courage and determination required to escape, enhance understanding of the condition of slavery and explore the powerful instinct toward freedom,” museum director Kenneth Rodgers said.
“Color in Freedom” consists of four movements that track the lives of those who traveled along the Underground Railroad: The Unknown World, Living in Bondage – Life on the Plantation, The Journey of Escape, and Color in Freedom.
The Unknown World depicts the dichotomy between the old world and new, juxtaposing warm colors against somber and muted tones, depicting despair, loss and the harsh adjustment to the unknown life that awaits the enslaved.
Living in Bondage opens with “Dawn of Despair,” as the slaves awaken not simply to the dawn of a new day, but of an entirely new world where Holston’s trademark use of line, form and color are employed to convey a wide range of emotions.
Journey of Escape showcases Holston’s use of light to interpret the dream and hope of freedom and the conviction of those in search of freedom despite grim realities.
Color in Freedom depicts music and dance through an exhilarating explosion of color, signaling the beginning of a life in freedom.
Holston, a painter and printmaker, is best known for his use of vivid color, abstracted forms and expressive lines, reflecting his appreciation for musical composition. His abstract style draws from the cubist tradition, perfecting his ability to communicate his subjects’ emotion. Viewers quickly understand the love and emotion shared between his figures.
Holston’s cubist abstractionist style has evolved over a fine arts career spanning more than 35 years. A critically acclaimed artist, he has exhibited all over the United States, including the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum in Washington. Holston has been an artist in residence and a guest lecturer at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, and at the Experimental Printmaking Institute at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Works by Holston are included in numerous museums, institutions, and private collections. Among these are the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library at the University of Texas, DePauw University, Howard University, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, the King-Tisdell Cottage Museum in Savannah, the Hubert H. Humphrey Collection, the Evans-Tibbs Collection, the Donald Byrd Collection and the Jean and Robert Steele Collection.