When asked about black metal, Judge Daryl Loomis doesn't know whether to talk about Living Color or Ildjarn.
"That little stretch that we ran is just a link and a chain that goes both ways, and you have to understand that you are no alpha and no omega of anything. You're lucky to have just have had that little thing for a while."—Benny Andrews
Art history can be a fascinating subject, full of great stories and beautiful achievements. In a general cultural sense, however, the artists who get discussed are European and American artists with white skin. Institutions will often offer a class on the history of black art, but whatever style the artist paints in, be that representational, abstract, or expressionistic, they are lumped together as one big thing, "black art," rather than within the style in which they create and the discussion in which they belong.
In Colored Frames, director Lerone Wilson (No Child Left Behind) presents a cogent history of the last half century of African-American painting, both as a cultural group and in the context of where they belong within the general structure of 20th Century art. Using the words of the artists themselves, he achieves a story that is at once historical and personal, a story with all the same frustrations, sadness, and triumphs that occurred in the history of jazz music or baseball. Rather than the repetition diminishing the power of the story, it makes the universality of their plight even clearer.
Using the artists as talking heads and delivering a slideshow of their work, Wilson shows the widely disparate styles the artists employ alongside their startlingly similar stories of segregation within the gallery. Hearing from Gustave Blache III about the reception of his work from a gallery owner before meeting the artist in person and after, where he was excited about his work, then "didn't realize he was black," and suddenly becoming reticent about showing it is all we really need to know. There is a litany of similar experiences here, though, coming from the relatively prominent Benny Andrews (who died shortly after his interview was filmed) to Blache, John Ashford, and sadly lesser-known people like Nanette Carter and Marva Huston. They're all worth hearing and tell their stories in a satisfying manner that makes me wish the film was a little longer.
The discussion could be deeper, but Wilson presents Colored Frames within a short time frame and in a suitably straightforward style. The artists are engaging characters with valuable tales to tell. It isn't the kind of thing that I plan to pull out for parties, but it taught me quite a bit about black artists, most of whom I was totally unfamiliar with, and opened up a vein of conversation I don't often think about, which is always a welcome development.
Colored Frames receives a better than expected release from Microcinema. The image quality is what you expect from a recently produced documentary, with a clear picture, solid colors, and no transfer issues at all. The stereo audio mix is crisp and completely fine for what it has to do, which isn't a whole lot. The extras are strong for a short documentary, though. The audio commentary with director Wilson and producer Nonyo Christian Ugbodi is mostly a collection of friendly stories, but it's easy enough to listen to. Rounding out the disc is a couple of trailers and the best extra: the complete thirty minute interview with Benny Andrews, whose insights into the art world are extremely valuable. The film's official website features even more original interviews that are worth a look, as well.
It may not be the most exciting documentary in the world, but Colored Frames is a short and sweet primer on a criminally under-discussed section of the art world, with all the wisdom of the people who make the art. There's a lot more to learn and discuss on the subject, but Colored Frames is a very good place to start.
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