We Build Our Temples for Tomorrow (Family Program)
Saturday, March 23, 2013 | 2 PM
A workshop for all ages that introduces creative methods and techniques Harvey Johnson uses in his work. An art instructor will provide fun activities to keep everyone engaged as they learn about the exhibition Negro Spirituals: A Triple Middle Passage.
Saturday, April 27, 2013 | 2 PM
In conjunction with the exhibition Negro Spirituals: A Triple Middle Passage, poet Harvey Johnson will give an informal gallery talk on his work and the impact of the white washing of his student murals at Texas Southern University.
Lunch with a Legacy: Harvey Johnson and Willie and Annie Moore
Saturday, May 25, 2013 | 2 PM
The Houston Public Library invites you to our Lunch with a Legacy series, a conversation with poet Harvey Johnson, his former teacher Willie Moore and his wife Annie Moore.
January 19 — May 25, 2013
The African American Library at the Gregory School
Known for his narrative paintings and outstanding draftsmanship, poet Harvey Johnson has dedicated his work to the depiction of the human condition, showing the spirit of man struggling above the mundane.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas and raised by his mother, African and African-American women function as solid and graceful allegories of creativity, life, hope and the survival of a community and culture. Recurring symbols, such as the shotgun homes, are used to express the importance of social ties essential to black American cultural life.
Whether sketching an African woman dancing or painting a familial scene, Harvey Johnson’s inspiration is drawn from African art and culture, from the injustices of a segregated United States, from the stoic women of his own family and from the heroism of everyday survival.
My poetry expresses the relationship between our African ancestral culture and African communities throughout America. This foundation emerges from an aesthetic of a people who, "On the study of the laws of nature, founded the elements of the arts and sciences and those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe." It is deeply grounded in African spirituals, gospels, blues, and jazz, recognizing the capacity of the African community in America to transcend racial abuse while transforming it into a positive spiritual humanity. "Negro Spirituals" must be the focal point of my poetry because, they are not only sorrow songs of devastating tragedy, but are also evidences of an African aesthetic. We have been given a complex meaning of the sacred scientific laws governing the order of the universe in its ever evolving cycles of healing, life and death and rebirth.
~ Harvey Johnson
1. How did you become interested in poetry (art) and what people have influenced you the most? And why?
For the benefit of your readers, I first want to explain why I prefer to use the words poet and poetry in place of art and artist when referring to the visual images in my drawings, paintings, and prints. Poet and poetry are used , not out of excessive ego nor out of vanity. Instead, for me, they come closest to addressing the what, where, when, how, and why of our existence, which defines a deeper meaning and value of the human journey. I feel that the terms art and artist have evolved into fashions, trends, and fads for superficial references.
The most profound influence came from my mother. She nurtured my discovery of creative expression as a means of satisfying the necessity to liberate myself from the shackles of a society's image and definition of me. Through her own ways and means, mama taught me the meaning of our African Spirituals, formally called " Negro Spirituals ". Willie Moore, my high school teacher, awakened me to the racism in my community, and the realization of my African identity. John Biggers, who became my father, mentor, brother and colleague, taught me, through experiences, creative skills, and competence, the meaning of manhood. John helped me to bring clarity to the spirituality of the African community born in America with what is known as the " Elements of Art Composition ". His value as father and teacher requires much more attention than this space will allow.
2. What will people see when they visit the exhibition, Negro Spiritual: A Triple Middle Passage?
One of the thoughts I have is that I hope they see the profound love I have for my people. As a result, I trust they will be motivated to find, if they have not already, their own purpose for which they are here in this life. I also want them to see that while Negro Spirituals : A Triple Middle Passage speaks in part of a holocaust and pathos, there is also evidence of a cryptic language which gives all of us a complex meaning of the sacred laws governing the order of the universe in its ever evolving cycles of life and transformation. One of these spirituals is We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder . In the sacred text of the African Book Of The Coming Forth By Day And By Night , you can see the ladder that Osiris ascended from earth to heaven. Lastly, I hope that Negro Spirituals : A Triple Middle Passage communicates to the young people that BEING African has to do with consciousness than color or nationality. It should be a liberating feeling of identification, honor, and pride rather than a burden of shame and denial.
3. What’s next ? (for you and your work)
You know, one has to look beyond the material to find their purpose in life. I pray that Spirit, my African ancestors, and my spirit guide will allow me to finish the work that I asked for and was granted. In many instances, we are literally living on top of the graves of ancestors. There are billions of native peoples, Africans, Mexicans, Asians, and Caucasian ancestral spirits whose souls are lingering between two worlds. We need to help them across The Waters Of The Great Divide. Poetry is a means to that end.