DEREK FORDJOUR: PAINTING THE BLACK EXPERIENCE. The rising artist’s exquisite abstract patterning explores realities of African-American life.
In a decade or five, which painting will recall how 2020 felt? It must convey grief, fragility, claustrophobia, also resolve, unity, sensuous joy in small things, during a year paralysed by the pandemic but galvanised towards social reform by George Floyd’s killing.
One such is the contemporary history painting “Pall Bearers”: the standout in Derek Fordjour: Self Must Die, opening next month at New York’s Petzel Gallery. When George Floyd was killed, another Floyd, boxer Floyd Mayweather, paid for his burial in a gold casket. Fordjour has painted a man killed like a dog, leaving earth like a king.
Descending a staircase in a compressed, vertiginous space, six black men with pink gloves carry the coffin, tilting it towards us: an accusatory, hard, gleaming cylinder adorned with a soft mauve wreath. Extravagantly dressed in mulberry suits, orange waistcoats, glamorous as singers in a band, dignified, a cohesive sextet, they are also vulnerable, uneasy, broken.
Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.comT&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email email@example.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found here.
Fordjour, 46, is a rising name. His billboard mural “Half Mast” showed at the Whitney last year; his inaugural museum show, presciently called Shelter, launched pre-lockdown, in January, at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis.
But since impoverished student days Fordjour has painted on mulched newspaper (the Financial Times, in fact), building sumptuous layers in acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal, cardboard and foil strips. The effect is raw, homespun, alluring: from a distance the collages cohere into decisive, memorable images, close up the devil is in the detail.
The pallbearers’ features are fragmented: jagged assemblages of cardboard squares, newspaper piercing through. They reject our gaze, seek protection in invisibility: they close their eyes, lower hats to block their faces.