Columbus State Brings Home Pioneering Brooklyn Artist, Curator for Community-Oriented ‘River Project’

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Florence Neal’s artistry and enterprising savvy has been recognized as a force behind a New York City neighborhood’s cultural revival. But during the next several weeks, she’s spending time away from her Brooklyn gallery and studio to engage in a community-oriented project in her hometown.
As an artist-in-residence hosted by Columbus State University’s Department of Art, Neal will depict  the Chattahoochee River, from bridge to bridge and Georgia to Alabama, by using hand tools on a 24-by-8-foot linoleum block print. Titled The River Project, the work will incorporate recorded, local residents’ oral histories related to the river collected by Neal while she works on the project.

Prior to the work, Neal will give a talk about the Oct. 19-Nov. 20 Illges Gallery exhibition, Degrees of Density: Selections from the Kentler Flatfiles, The free, public lecture is set for 12:30-1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20 in the gallery, where the show features drawings from the Kentler International Drawing Space, co-founded in 1990 and directed by Neal in Brooklyn’s historic Red Hook neighborhood.

The exhibition’s opening reception is 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19 in the gallery.

Neal’s Kentler Flatfiles contains work by more than 160 artists. The collection also is featured by the Columbus Museum through drawings by Richard Howe, Beth Caspar, Marietta Hoferer and Barb Bondy.

In preparing for The River Project, the daughter of prominent Columbus architect Edward Neal will sketch and photograph the river scenery. She will begin work on the block print Oct. 21 outside the Corn Center, alongside the river she crossed regularly since childhood, including commutes to Auburn University, from where she graduated in 1976.

Public Participation Welcome Oct. 21-22 and 25-26

Neal, right, invites community members to drop by from 9 a.m.-noon Thursday and Friday, Oct. 21-22 and Monday and Tuesday Oct. 25-26 to watch her work and share stories associated with the river and its environs. The stories will be recorded, and a selection of them will be incorporated into the project at a later date. Every storyteller will receive a commemorative button designed by the artist. In case of inclement weather, prospective contributors can find Neal working inside the Corn Center.

Neal said the community members’ input is vital to the project, as “the river, with a life of its own and trove of stories swirling in its muddy depths, divides the land, separating not only states but states of mind.”

The project also represents a homecoming for Neal, who left Columbus in January 1977 to join the New York City art scene. By the early 1980s, she was displaying her paintings, prints and sculptures around New York, and eventually around the country. The Columbus Public Library holds one of her public collections, a “Fireworks Series” of 10 block prints.

Upon establishing the Kentler studio and gallery, media outlets, such as the New York Times, have identified and profiled Neal as among the pioneering artists and entrepreneurs who have revitalized what Life magazine in the 1980s described as the “crack capital of America” and one of the “worst” neighborhoods in the country. Today, Red Hook, along the East River, is an emerging cultural center and tourist destination.

Neal has created a niche among Red Hook’s eclectic mix of artists, as her storefront gallery displays contemporary drawings and textual work by emerging and under-recognized artists, whose work is noted for effectively integrating the cultural fabric of the community.                                                                 

'Degrees of Density'

For the Degrees of Density exhibition, Neal has called upon curator Marilyn Symmes of the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. Symmes selected 54 contemporary drawings by 29 artists from the Kentler Flatfiles.

Those artists “challenge what is real or abstract as they explore new expressions of line, color and surface, as well as… degrees of density,” Symmes said. “(The exhibition’s title) is adapted from a 1920s quote by Dutch modernist Theo van Doesburg, who said ‘Nothing is more real than a line, a color, a surface.’  Doesburg’s statement has become a fundamental rationale for abstract art, which he believed ‘has no other significance than itself.’”

Marquetry Artist to Speak Oct. 21

Another widely recognized artist from Brooklyn is visiting Columbus State. Alison Elizabeth Taylor, who specializes in the Renaissance craft of marquetry, will discuss her work 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21 in Carpenters Hall at the corner of 9th Street and Broadway on CSU’s RiverPark campus.

A Selma, Ala., native, Taylor’s contemporary interpretations within a medium based on producing scenes with veneers of wood and other materials has attracted coverage from the likes of the New York Times. Her work has drawn numerous awards and has been shown internationally.

Taylor’s lecture, plus the Degrees of Density opening reception and Neal’s gallery talk, all are free and open to the public.

Illges Gallery hours are noon-4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; noon-8 p.m. Thursday; and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. 

For more information, call 706-507-8300.