Black Artist Exhibits Return to King Arts Center with Natalie Orr

One of Natalie Orr’s favorite paintings in her new collection is called “Aura”.

The piece features a black woman with her hair wrapped in a traditional African hairstyle called Bantu knots. She has her eyes closed and is looking upwards, possibly towards the sun, as her skin is golden.

“I love the details, from the hair to the hands to the pose and the emotions it conveys,” Orr said. “It’s definitely one of my favorites.”

“Aura” is a play on the title of Orr’s latest exhibition, “Aurora,” which opened Thursday at the King Arts Complex in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville neighborhood of Columbus. The Downtown artist said she wanted to fill her rooms with colors like yellow, red and orange to remind people of the sun.

“When people come in, I just want them to be so busy with work that it feels like the sun is looking directly at them,” she said. “I want them to come in and feel warm and comforted.”

Members of the city’s black arts community may feel this warm feeling for other reasons as well. Orr’s exhibit represents the first art exhibit the King Arts Complex has hosted since March 2020 at the start of the pandemic — and it’s just in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We are delighted to be open again,” said executive director Demetries Neely. “People need to engage with each other; we’re just built that way.

“We want to do what we can to bring some normality. We want to be able to navigate the new normal that still allows people to come together safely, try to avoid any unintended consequences, while allowing people to enjoy Arts. ”

Neely said the arts organization reopened in June after Governor Mike DeWine lifted capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events. Since then, some events have taken place elsewhere due to renovations.

The organization is partnering with the Ohio History Center to host a Martin Luther King Day Celebration at the center from noon to 2 p.m. The featured speaker will be State Senator Hearcel Craig at 12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m.

Ongoing renovations to the King Complex are part of an $800,000 project that includes the lobby and auditorium. Neely said the project is “99% complete” but is awaiting closure of the expanded patio, which is expected to be completed in March.

Marshalll Shorts, artist and designer from King-Lincoln-Bronzeville, former tenant of the King Arts Complex and vice-chairman of the board of the Maroon Arts Group, a black-led nonprofit organization based in the neighborhood, said the return of art exhibits to the complex provides another important space for black artists to showcase their work.

“The King Arts Complex has a beautiful facility and gallery that has long been underutilized for a variety of reasons,” Shorts said. “As a former tenant and artist, I am acutely aware of the lack of spaces for black artists in the city. I hope this exhibition marks a step in a new direction for the complex.”

Columbus comics artist, painter and educator Bryan Moss said the two-year hiatus in art exhibits was sad given the King Arts Complex’s role as an anchor in the community black arts. He said the venue is a safe space for him to show off his work.

“When they closed and there were no art shows, it limits access for creative artists and it affects us financially, spiritually…” Moss said. “It’s one of those things where you miss the community. It’s like losing a finger or something.”

King Arts Complex: Training a new generation of artists

For multimedia artist Richard Duarte Brown, the reopening of the complex means a new generation of artists will be able to enjoy the space. He said he appeared in his first group exhibition at the King Arts Complex in 1990 called “Brothers”. While there, he met current curator Lyn Logan-Grimes and then-curator Bettye Stull.

Over the years, the Columbus artist has appeared in several group shows in lieu of the arts.

“It’s important to have spaces where we can come in and be ourselves and be unabashedly who we are,” Brown said. “It’s important to have spaces where we house our story or creatives and serve the needs of communities, so having a space that belongs to us is very vital.”

Orr was at the King Arts Complex on a recent Monday afternoon preparing for his exhibit with his mother, Kimberly Orr. The 20-piece collection added splashes of color to the white walls of the Elijah Pierce Gallery, which will be open from 6-8 p.m. until March 12 for the free exhibition.

The 26-year-old artist began working in December 2019 on the collection, which consists mostly of paintings of black women. Orr said she wanted to see herself represented in her work, but she was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the summer of 2020.

Natalie Orr's painting

For the models featured in the paintings, Orr found them on one of the safest places to interact with people during the pandemic – the internet. She said she connected with her role models on Instagram; one of them lives as far as Italy.

“Primarily, I’ll just search the ‘explore’ page, then see someone where I need to paint it, then reach out and ask, and then we’ll go from there,” Orr said. .

Orr had her first solo art exhibition at the King Arts Complex in 2015. She said it was a full time to come back to have her last exhibition at the site.

She said she was first introduced to the complex as a senior at Reynoldsburg High School when her class took a field trip there. Their tour guide was Logan-Grimes, who asked if anyone in the group was an artist.

“I wasn’t going to say anything because I was just starting out and I wasn’t really confident in my work and I didn’t want to get shot or anything,” Orr said. “A friend of mine said ‘Nat paints’ and I said ‘I’m going to have to show her my stuff.’

“But of course I showed her a few pieces, we exchanged contact details, and that was the first real gallery I got to exhibit in because she let me do a few group shows here,” Orr said. .

“I feel like I’m back home.”

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The art exhibition "Dawn" opened Thursday at the King Arts Complex in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville neighborhood of Columbus.

‘Dawn’

Natalie Orr’s free art exhibit will be on view in the Elijah Pierce Gallery at the King Arts Complex, 835 Mt. Vernon Ave., on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. until March 12.

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Julia P. Cluff