Dr. Ricco Wright, the chair of Black Wall Street Arts, isn’t phased when asked why the first Black Wall Street Arts exhibition doesn’t exclusively feature black artists.
"You’ve got to understand that there were white patrons of Black Wall Street," Wright said. "It was more that we didn’t have access to that other world, because integration wasn’t the case at the time … I’m using the moniker Black Wall Street because of the spirit of it. I believe in that entrepreneurial spirit. I believe in inclusion. The more I learn about Black Wall Street, the more I want to emulate that."
Wright, an animated speaker, is a Tulsa native who spent a few years in New York City getting a doctorate in mathematics education at Columbia. And to hear it from him, he came back from New York with a specific purpose.
"I think the most important part of my being back home is unifying Tulsa," he said. "I don’t believe in segregating ourselves anymore. I don’t believe in separating opportunities. I don’t believe in not granting access. When I put on events, it’s always a diverse crowd; I’m intentional about that."
That will undoubtedly be true when Black Wall Street Gallery opens this Friday. The exhibition is the first part of the "Conciliation Series," which will pair up one black artist with one white artist on a rotating basis throughout the course of its one-year run. The first two artists in the series are Alexander Tamahn, a member of Black Moon Collective, and JP Morrison Lans, a painter and portraitist who worked on ahha’s THE EXPERIENCE.
Tamahn grew up in Grand Rapids and Chicago: a latch-key kid who rode the subways alone and used art to avoid doing his homework. He transplanted to Tulsa to study at ORU and has stayed on ever since.
"There’s been this exponential upswing in the growth and character of this town," Tamahn said. "It’s been pretty cool. So I’m grateful to be a part of that."
Tamahn’s work is lush and colorful, mostly in acrylic, though he identifies his work as mixed media. He paints otherworldly pictures of figures and faces, often suspended in bright celestial or floral atmospheres. You’ve probably seen his yellow #blacklivesmatter mural among many other Day of the Dead murals behind Elgin Park, inscribed with the names of Eric Harris and Terence Crutcher.
JP Morrison Lans also works in mixed media, blending human body parts in a gleeful neglect of anatomy: One human may have three faces, or be made entirely out of legs. Her works, too, arecolorful and bright, something you may have noticed if you walked through THE EXPERIENCE at ahha. Lans was one of the five lead artists on the project.
Lans has been working in the region for almost two decades. At age 16, her work was chosen for an exhibition with the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition; since then, she’s gotten a degree from the Kansas City Art Institute. She lived in Australia for a spell, but ultimately came back to Tulsa to stay in 2014.
They bond over their focus on hands: both artists isolate hands in their work and paint hands with roots growing out of them—they’re both self-admitted hand-enthusiasts. It’s something that Wright, the organizer of the show, was drawn to: "[They] emphasize hands. We do so many things with our hands; we even say, in this metaphorical way, ‘the world is in our hands.’
"I personally think Alexander is the Basquiat of Tulsa," he said. "It evokes emotion, when he puts that paintbrush on the canvas. He knows exactly how to impress upon the viewer whatever it is that he’s trying to convey. I like that.
"And then with JP Morrison, I think you find a sort of abstract avant-garde; but then, she’s so particular with details. The way she can actually draw skin and make it look so real—but then, some of it is surrealism, too. So, I like her flirting with realism and surrealism and putting it on the canvas. I’m just fascinated by her ability and her skillset."
Tamahn and Lans are, in Wright’s words, "the two artists leading the pack … I admire their work; I also like them as individuals. When I think about a progressive Tulsa, I look at the two of them: on the chocolate side, and on the vanilla side."
Black Wall Street Gallery Opening
Friday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m.
101 N Greenwood