I describe my entire body of work as "Chasing after Spirits". I am a visual artist creating works on paper. My medium, collage, my materials, acrylic paints, 300 and 140 lb. water color paper, matte medium as adhesive and mixed media. My work embodies research identity and the gathering of elements of African American retentions, evoking residues of dreams, images, and intuitive memories, creating visual stories that reach back into ancestral histories, and stories that impact the here and now. Evolving over time, my work is becoming stronger and more sculptural - abstract - layered with texture, creating a visual language that explores energies and color, experimenting with new forms that impact, on gender, belief, and survival of spirit.
- Barbara Bullock
The African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI
Howard University, Washington, DC
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ
The Lewis Tanner Moore Collection, Warrington, PA
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia, PA
The Pretrucci Foundation, NJ
SEPTA-- Art in Transit, Philadelphia, PA
The Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA
by Sabina Clarke
Germantown artist Barbara Bullock, who shares a spacious, sunny, brightly decorated loft/studio living and work space in the Greene Street Artists Co-Op with her black cat Mali and her Maine Coon cat Kush, is one of the few living artists in the current “Women and Biography” exhibit of paintings and works on paper from Woodmere’s collection (now through June 1).
Bullock, a diminutive, shy, self-effacing woman, says she is still surprised whenever she gets an award, although she has received so many. But she admits loving it when people react positively to her work.
Bullock, who says she was born in 1938, was named New Jersey State Council on the Arts Distinguished Teaching Artist in 1997 and 2001 and was the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and numerous other honors.
In Philadelphia, she is part of the Seraphin Gallery, 11th and Pine Streets, and in New York City, the Essie Green Gallery in Harlem and the ACA Gallery in Chelsea as well as universities such as Lafayette College in Easton, PA, Rutgers State University in New Jersey and major institutions including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and numerous private collections across the country.
For Bullock, her art is her language. She feels strongly about what she does, and this is apparent in the themes represented in her work, such as her dramatic piece at Woodmere titled “Trayvon — Most Precious Blood” consisting of acrylic, matte medium and watercolor paper. I was attracted to this work immediately with its striking design and vibrant colors.
The piece was inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida high-school student who was shot down in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer — a case that sparked international outrage and had global repercussions.
Trayvon Martin’s death had a profound impact on Bullock and stirred old memories of the senseless deaths of young boys to gun violence in the North Philadelphia neighborhood in which she grew up. And she incorporated “Most Precious Blood” into the title of her work from the Church of the Most Precious Blood that she attended as a child.
Another real life event that spoke to Bullock was the Hurricane Katrina flood in Louisiana in 2005. She remembers turning on the TV and seeing things that she found hard to comprehend. “I remember I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the people and thought that this cannot be happening in America.” Her feelings of shock and outrage prompted her to undertake her “Katrina Series.”
Bullock started working on her art at a very young age. She remembers being in the School Art League, a program in all public elementary schools, all through elementary school and high school. She grew up in North Philadelphia and moved to Germantown as a teenager. She attended Roosevelt Junior High School on Washington Lane and then Germantown High School.
“There was so much art in school when I was growing up. After school, we would go to the Wissahickon and draw from nature, so it never stopped. Now in schools, it is the first thing to go, which is a shame because it really rounds children out and encourages them to read and do creative writing.”
After high school, Barbara worked at various jobs while attending Fleisher Art Memorial, the Hussian School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she met artists she admires like Charles Searles, Ellen Powell Tiberino and Moe Booker.
As Bullock continued to pursue her career as an artist, she developed an impressive career as a teacher; teaching art in schools, prisons and museums. She particularly enjoyed her experience with Arts Horizon, a project that was funded by the New Jersey Council on the Arts where artists would go into the schools and teach children as well as teachers at Rutgers University in Camden. She did this for 10 years until the funding ceased.
Bullock recalls her first exhibition in 1969 at a gallery in Philadelphia and remembers how difficult it was for African-American artists. “There were not many outlets, so many African-American artists organized shows of their own and became stronger.”
In the past 10 years, Bullock feels that the art world has finally begun to take notice of her work. And she likes being recognized at this point in her life but aspires to be in more galleries outside of Philadelphia. For now, she is looking forward to her next exhibition, “Straight Water Blues” at La Salle University which opens on June 12. (The title was taken from the line in a blues song.) Bullock has a fascination with the mystical properties of water.
July 3, 2013
by A.M. Weaver
From intense violet to black, Barbara Bullock has spent a career balancing vibrant colors with darker hues. She uses black liberally to make her painted collage constructions. Beyond its reference to mourning and death, black is understood as the confluence of all colors, and in many African cultures and within Japanese philosophy it is identified with power, mystery and transcendence—the portal into the spirit world.
Bullock's recent exhibition at Seraphin, "Chasing after Spirits," could be considered the ultimate exploration of the color black. Her cultivated love for the hue resonates in each of the 10 pieces on view. Working with heavy watercolor paper, Bullock cuts and paints a diverse array of shapes that she then collages into interwoven, sculptural compositions, reaching over 6 feet tall or wide in some instances. Among the twirling and tumbling shapes are hints of cadmium orange, golden yellow and blues that range from turquoise to azure; aerial forays of linear elements cascade and overlap these larger forms. Close scrutiny of the wall-dependent relief works is required to appreciate their nuances. For example, the artist's blacks are not uniform but created from overlays of yellow and purple that gradually become darkened surfaces. Pattern and underpainting peek through from one layer to the next. The overall effect is that of a theatrical orchestration of movement and form.
As an Africanist, Bullock attempts to invoke ancestral spirits. According to the artist, her work is informed by myths, literature and symbols from Africa and the African diaspora; she has traveled to many countries throughout the continent, from Morocco to South Africa. In Ethiopia Revisited (2011), the suggestion of the Coptic cross emerges, however loosely. Bullock visited a Coptic church in the mountains of Lalibela, Ethiopia; these edifices are usually cut directly into the rocky hills and are often underground. Through abstract means—languid gestural forms—Bullock narrates such journeys.
Bullock has been working for more than four decades, and she arrived at her current constructions by nearly eliminating representational elements, although sometimes silhouettes of hands, feet, heads, figures, fish, snakes and foliage can be found tucked within the cacophony of shapes. In years past, her work relied heavily upon figurative traditions but always with a nod to mythology and the fantastical. Jasmine Garden, a classic work from the '80s, features detailed indigo figures with cords of dreadlocks gracing their heads, caught midair in a sensuous embrace. Statuesque figures gliding in space are particular to her early works: she focused on painting during the 1970s and '80s, transitioning to mixed-medium sculpture and collage in 1990.
As a spiritualist, she imbues the emblems and shapes she creates with narrative; however, secrets and mystery abound. Influenced by the literary works of such writers as Ben Okri (author of the 1991 novelThe Famished Road, a winding tale replete with spirits that guide a young Nigerian boy's journey through life) and Isabel Wilkerson (whose 2010 historical study, The Warmth of Other Suns, traces the migration of blacks from the South to the North between 1915 and 1970), Bullock with fervor internalizes their themes, articulating references to the spirit world and transcendence in her own way. For Bullock there is no separation between life, spirituality, dance, music and poetry. Her works convey the connection between the empirical and the metaphysical, the known and the unknown.
PHOTO: Barbara Bullock: Chasing after Spirits 2, 2012, acrylic paint and matte medium on watercolor paper, 45 by 34 by 19 inches; at Seraphin.
April 14, 2013
In Chasing after Spirits, Barbara Bullock’s latest works at Seraphin Gallery, vestigial memories, oral tradition, characters, and abstractions do indeed chase each other through the artist’s fevered narratives. These huge structures, three-dimensional paintings spanning several different series of works, are close to the imagery one might experience as part of a vision quest.
Barbara Bullock, “People in the Water.” 2011. Acrylic paint and matte medium on watercolor paper. 57″ H X 52″ D X 15″ W. $9000.
Profoundly cohesive, each work forms its own narrative world, but also flows effortlessly into sync with the others in the room. With African culture and ancestry as her primary point of departure, the milieu consists of luminous, hothouse colors, prints teased into infinite abstraction, and curvilinear floral, animalistic, insect-like and reptilian shapes.
Bullock, a 1997 Pew fellow and distinguished art educator, uses a rigorously-layered painting process, with textured paint and abstracted cut-out shapes. Far from being oblique, however, the paintings are astonishing for their richness, and provocative in the inherent psychological exercise of interpreting them.
In the eleven pieces on display, Bullock captures both a spiritual language of Africa and the countries of its diaspora as well as an authoritative voice that could just as easily serve a number of other cultures or belief systems. From every angle, Bullock’s creations achieve the visual equivalent of the mythological writings of Joseph Campbell; where Campbell traced the paths of archetypes and totems throughout world religions and mythologies, Bullock uses shapes and colors to reveal the singular knowledge behind images and thoughts we confront every day.
Barbara Bullock, “Gateway.” 2013. Acrylic paint and matte medium on watercolor paper. 50″ H X 10″ D X 38″ W. $7000.
“Gateway” pushes the shape of an arch slightly outside its dimensions, just enough so that it looks transient, ready to slip away at any moment. Within and without the gate, indefinite experiences take place: an outstretched limb, descending roots, and a snake-like figure hanging upside down are all potential findings to be extracted from the piece.
Barbara Bullock, “Chasing After Spirits 2.” 2012. Acrylic paint and matte medium on watercolor paper. 57″ H X 52″ D X 34″ W. $7000.
Bullock’s reverence for mystery, an inheritance from her work teaching children, is also a forceful presence. Shadows are an essential component of the works, and Seraphin’s sleek, bright open interior and lighting brings them into beautiful relief. “Chasing After Spirits 2” sends tendrils and swirls of shadow arching across the wall away from the piece, augmenting it and giving it an appearance of strength and power.
“Crow,” Barbara Bullock. 2012. Acrylic paint and matte medium on watercolor paper. 24″ H x 19″ D x 21″ W. $4000.
Generally, crows have acquired a bad rap, but Bullock is attuned to the more positive aspect of their nature. “Crow” is a clear-cut likeness of a bird with wings outstretched, and underneath the black wings, Bullock alludes to the crow’s renowned intelligence with some deftly-chosen color. The crow’s body in mid-flight is a faceted, iridescent blue, wreathed with a thin ribbon of bright orange, as if to represent its mythic and symbolic link with wisdom. Rather than reaching for Hitchcockian nightmare, Bullock’s crow evokes other mythologies, like the two ravens kept as couriers and informants by Odin, king of the Norse gods.
One of my favorite aspects of Chasing after Spirits (and there were many from which to choose) was the variation between works that conveyed stillness and those that communicated movement. “House Transitioning to Ancestor,” a neat summation of Bullock’s desire to harness personal experience to distant memory, is meditative, with the distinct impression of a figure with crossed legs and a calmly raised hand. On the other end of the spectrum, “Swallowing Bitter Pills, Chewing Dry Bones,” whose name calls up death and destruction, hurtles forward with the energy of a plunging horse.
Bullock’s grasp of archetype and a universal spirituality ferry the viewer from the past to the present and the future, and Chasing after Spirits is a triumphant expression of her desire to understand how we are guided by images and memories in every part of life.