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Langston Hughes’ legacy inspires a new exhibition

By Allison Plitt

After Jackson Heights artist Carla Lobmier presented a watercolor exhibition at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center, she approached the facility’s director about putting together an art show around the poetry of Hughes.

With Director Andrew P. Jackson’s approval, she organized an exhibit she titled “I catch the pattern,” the first line of Hughes’ poem “Silence,” from 1941.

The display showcases the work of 10 visual artists and one poet. The exhibit, which is open to the public, runs through April 30.

“All of these artists are from Queens,” Lobmier said. “There’s one artist who has a long-standing connection to Queens and me, but everybody else lives in Queens – Jackson Heights, Forest Hills, Jamaica, Woodside and Sunnyside.”

The exhibition displays 37 works linked to the work of Hughes, an American poet, social activist, playwright and columnist, who is best known as the leader of the Harlem Renaissance, which occurred in the 1920s in New York City.

Lobmier asked each artist to choose a piece of Hughes’ poetry to accompany their creations.

According to a 1969 article in The New York Times titled “Langston Hughes — The Most Abused Poet in America?” by Lindsay Patterson, the writer observed, “Hughes, more than any other black poet or writer, recorded faithfully the nuances of black life and its frustrations.”

“I let the artists choose the poetry for the art,” Lobmier said. “I instructed the artists to look for a poem that would either inspire a new piece of work or to look for connections between a poem and an existing piece of work. It’s up to you — what direction you want pursue.’”

Lobmier submitted her own painting for the exhibit titled, “Chandelier in Leaf,” from a series of paintings she created using chandelier motifs.

Her chandelier appears brightly iridescent against a backdrop of richly colored painted and collaged canvas leaves. Lobmier chose the poem “Demand” in which Hughes contemplates the universal ideas of life and death as the inspiration for both the imagery in her painting and the metaphor it expresses.

“This (poem) was very much in keeping with the spirit of the series of what I do with chandelier images,” Lobmier said. “It’s really a questioning poem about where do we find comfort? What is life affirming to us? How do we view the world? Where do we find our solace? So when I read the poem, it eclipsed into this really big philosophical place that I found to be a match for the searching qualities of this painting series.”

Jean Foos is another Jackson Heights artist who participated in the exhibit submitting her piece “Hammock Grove.”

Foos painted her canvas with overlapping patterns of straight lines and wavy swirls on top of a background of brilliant hues. She chose the poem “Bouquet” to accompany her work.

“As an abstract painter, I didn’t really know how I could connect a single poem with one of my works, but after reading many, I kept coming back to this one poem called ‘Bouquet,’” she said. “The title may first call to mind a traditional still life with flowers, but instead the lines swirl forth, loop back and end without mentioning a stem or petal. I liked the sharp contrasts and movement that only suggest a fleeting combination of emotions and senses. As in the poem, the specific parts of (my) painting don’t add up to a fixed sum, but keep changing and questioning and rely on the perception of the viewer to put it together.”

The one poet among the artists in the exhibit, Rebecca Gopoian, a Jackson Heights writer, composed a piece to accompany Hughes’ poem “Long Trip.”

She read her poem to the audience on the night of the show’s reception last month as part of the group’s readings of the selected poems. In her poem Gopoian writes perhaps a personal aside to Hughes himself, “A little bell keeps ringing in my ear like a piece of glass next to another piece of glass. I might live up to you, subtracting one ocean at a time.”

If you go

“I catch the pattern”

When: Through Thursday, April 30

Where: Queens Library Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center, 100-01 Northern Blvd., Corona

Contact: (718) 651-1100

Website: www.queenslibrary.org

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