HILLARY Rodham Clinton bollixed up our rendezvous.
John Rozelle, who was reared here and began his painting career
here and maintains close connections with St. Louis, was in town to
open his new show at the Locus Gallery in Clayton.
The gallery had arranged a meeting, but between the time the
appointment was made and the appointment itself, everyone learned
that Mrs. Clinton was coming to Library Ltd., which shares its
building with the gallery.
The solution was easy: The crowds and Secret Service and TV had
a go at Forsyth and Hanley; so we had a cup of coffee in the
mid-afternoon doldrums at a Bread Company a few blocks away.
Rozelle came in from the rainy afternoon looking Cool, with
pinch-braids and dark glasses, but was friendly and warm as he'd
The show at Locus marks an important moment in his career. Like
most visual artists in America, Rozelle doesn't pay the bills with
revenue from sales of his work. He has another job; fortunate for
him it is closely related to his work. He teaches art at the School
of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his good news, received
recently, is that he has been awarded tenure at the school.
"It has been a long, long spring," he said good-naturedly.
Although he was reasonably sure of getting a tenured position, he
said he didn't count a chicken such as that one until it hatched.
There was other business at school.
"The thing about being a member of the junior faculty is that
they think you should serve, and that's OK. The school is
faculty-run, so if you're going to have a hand in running it, you
have to know how it works."
"We are looking for another faculty member in the painting
department," he said. There were 300 applicants for the job; he
interviewed 49 of the applicants himself. Also, he's chair of the
ad hoc African-American committee.
Recently, he organized an exhibition of work by
African-American faculty, alums and current graduate students. He
said 500 people showed up at the opening, and he was gratified. He
wants the school to have a better relationship with Chicago's
African-American population. The Art Institute opened its doors in
1871 to white and black students. About 3,000 black artists have
gone through its programs in the last 125 years.
There is no question that Rozelle regards himself as an artist
deeply influenced by and involved with his African heritage. In a
statement he wrote in connection with the opening of his Locus
show, he said, "African sensibilities are used in the presentation
of contemporary social/political concerns much like objects in use
in African societies where traditional practices exist today."
Later on in the statement, he says, "Like many
African-Americans who struggle with spiritual needs, we often make
no connections to organized religious practices. We are neither in
the old or the new world."
Influences drawn from African art, visual and spiritual, are
woven tightly into the tapestry of the art of this century, be they
direct quotations such as those made by Picasso, or the involvement
of the narrative, story-telling traditions that appear in the work
of such artists such as Faith Ringgold, whose work also emphasizes
and involves African-American faces and characters. …