On opening night of Melvin Edwards: Crossroads and Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, a man dressed in a hot pink blazer looked intently at Edwards’ monumental installation Homage to the Poet Leon Gontran Damas. Rendered from welded steel Homage fills the entire first room of the exhibition space. Onlookers can merely conjecture about its past stories, purposes.
The man in pink noticed me observe Edwards’ piece and asked what I thought. Not an unusual question to ask a museum guard. Perhaps he sensed my curiosity. We shook hands, and he introduced himself as Leonardo Drew. I knew several of his pieces had been installed in Generations. Then he said, “Are you an artist?”
In building and shaping ideas, the poet adds or strips away words to construct meaning, thus, arriving at the same idea as the sculptor.
I replied that I wrote poetry and reflected on how Edwards’ Homage appeared both compact yet spacious, that this contrast reminded me of poetic form. “Mel would like that a lot. Oh yeah, you get it,” he smiled. That Drew
As we talked, Drew explained that he went to Cooper Union for art school and was deeply influenced by Edwards. Jack Whitten, whose work is on view in Generations and was the subject of a major retrospective at the BMA in 2018, taught Drew and is himself a Cooper Union alumnus. While I knew Whitten and Edwards were close friends, with the addition of Drew, this circle of postwar abstract artists now grew slightly larger.
We agreed that the creative process between writing and sculpting shared the same world. In building and shaping ideas, the poet adds or strips away words to construct meaning, thus, arriving at the same idea as the sculptor. Prior to our conversation, I had not connected sculpting to writing. I came away from the encounter feeling a kinship to Drew as an artist and gratitude for moments like this at work.
Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art is on view through January 19, 2020. Melvin Edwards: Crossroads is on view through January 12, 2020.