Project Onward's "Honoring Legendary African American Artists: Distinct Portraits by disAbled Artists" exhibition will be open to the public Feb. 16 to March 30 ( with an opening reception Feb. 9 ).
Among the many Project Onward artists whose portraiture work will be featured is openly gay Julius DC Bautista, who is honoring contemporary visual artist Laylah Ali and mixed-media collage artist Mark Bradford.
Other Project Onward artist participants include George Zuniga ( honoring Jean-Michel Basquiat ), David Holt ( Horace Pippin ), William Douglas ( Theaster Gates ), Elizabeth Barren ( Wangechi Mutu and Harriet Powers ), David Hence ( Elizabeth Catlett ), Sereno Wilson ( Chakaia Booker ), Michael Hopkins ( Palmer Hayden and Archibald John Motley Jr. ), Jacqueline Cousins ( Kara Walker ), Andrew Hall ( Kehinde Wiley ), Alfred Banks Jr. ( Kerry James Marshall ), Blake Lenoir ( Joseph Elmer Yoakum ), Shandrewick Key ( William Edmondson ), William Douglas and Sheila Smith ( Martin Puryear ), and Michael Bryant ( Sister Gertrude Morgan ).
"Project Onward is always looking for ways to inspire our artists and provide a source of income for them and what better way than to honor their artistic forebears," said Executive Director Nancy Gomez. "Each one of those legendary artists tells a story through their lives and their art just like our artists. Through grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Chicago Community Trust, we were able to finance this exhibit of portraits for sale to the public."
Bautista, who grew up in Chicago's western suburbs, honed his creativity outside of school by creating illustrations and written stories inspired by cartoons and comics.
"I read a lot of popular fiction books geared towards young adolescents, as well newspapers and magazines," said Bautista. "The commercial focus of magazine and journalistic photography have strongly influenced my eye for visual composition. The core of my paintings is a deep reliance on geometry and my understanding of psychology and various schools of philosophy."
In terms of how he describes his art to non-artists, Bautista explained that is constantly references binary and duality in which there is a continuous cycle where one becomes two and two becomes one. He said his work maximizes tension and he treats each piece like a contraption and visual ride through the use of colors and shapes.
When asked how he feels to be a part of this exhibit, Bautista said it is an honor.
"Growing up as a minority, there are parallels and commonalities between what I have experienced, and what the African American population endures," said Bautista. "I believe there can always be more done to mitigate the negative perceptions of the South Side of Chicago. Most recently, I partook in a gig with EXPO Chicago, Palais de Tokyo and the DuSable Museum of African American Art, acting as a docent for their combined exhibition effort, The Singing Stones. I learned so much from both participating staff and guests attending the museum, about the history of the neighborhoods and various prominent figures in the community. It feels great to work on projects with noble and honorable causes, because working as an independent artist typically maintains a commercial feel."
Bautista explained that he got involved with Project Onward as a young artist to fill an emotional void and provide the structure and support independent artists struggle to find. He noted that due to the peers and mentors at Project Onward, he was able to confront the medical diagnosis he was given while in the military and identify everything that was wrong with that original diagnosis.
"There is comfort in acceptance, and that acceptance pushed me to explore my neuroses to a state of intimate comfort, to come to terms with my 'demons,'" said Bautista. "I came to accept that I have Bipolar disorder, and after a year of taking proper medication and maintaining sobriety, I can say that I have never been more focused and content in my life. I attribute a lot of my stabilization to the Project Onward family, so I stay as active as I can in producing work for the many projects and collaborations Project Onward commits to. Being able to return to a community is a blessing I try not to take for granted. That Project Onward can provide me an outlet for that is something I continue to cherish day to day."
In addition to his involvement with Project Onward, Bautista was also accepted into the UIC Studio Arts Programwhich he called a revolutionary period because of the non conventional thought focused school curriculum. Bautista learned to approach art with an open mind and not be so technical.
"As an engineer in the military, my mind was trained to identify and isolate problem areas in a contraption and find opportunities for improvement," said Bautista. "As a student in studio arts, I learned to identify what works, and to analyze how and why, with the simple intent of acquiring another conceptual tool into my creative arsenal."
Bautista noted that his time in the military rarely influences his work these days, however, the maturity and discipline he gained there remains a part of how he operates, including being attentive to details and thorough in the planning and execution of his pieces.
In terms of the world in general, Bautista said "in this time of political turmoil and economic disarray it is important that communities stay resilient and strong. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned as an artist is that the reward does not come thru recognition, but through integration. As someone who grew up constantly feeling like an outsider, it is a blessing to know what it is like to be a part of a greater whole."
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner John P. Daley and Alderman Patrick D. Thompson are set to appear at the reception, alongside guest artist Faheem Majeed and other dignitaries.
Project Onward's "Honoring Legendary African American Artists: Distinct Portraits by disAbled Artists" opening reception fundraiser will take place Friday, Feb. 9, 6-9:30 p.m., at Chicago's Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St., fourth floor. The exhibit will be open to the public Feb. 16 to March 30.
To purchase tickets ( $25-$35 ), visit www.projectonward.org/exhibitions. For more information, contact 773-940-2992 or firstname.lastname@example.org .