SMC Emeritus has its own art gallery on the first floor at 1227 Second Street, Santa Monica. The Gallery is temporarily closed, but plans to host free exhibitions and live opening receptions online. See SMC Events for a calendar of events.
Click the links below to take a look at the beautiful artwork created by our students, faculty, and community members!
Charles Dickson: The Manifestation of Form
February 23 (Online AND On-Campus Exhibition)
Emeritus Gallery is thrilled to announce an exhibition by master sculptor Charles Dickson, a living legend of the California Black Arts Movement. The solo exhibition, Charles Dickson: The Manifestation of Form, will open simultaneously online AND as a can’t-miss installation in our brick-and-mortar on-campus location.
The gallery installation will close May 5, but the online portion of the exhibition will remain posted indefinitely. The installation is free to enter during gallery hours and the online component and Zoom event are free and available to anyone with web access.
Please join us online Thursday, February 23 for the incredible opportunity to celebrate Charles and his exhibition with a Zoom reception event 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Zoom event will feature the artist speaking about his work and will be hosted by Dean of Noncredit and External Programs Dr. Scott Silverman and Emeritus Gallery Curator Jesse Benson.
Please view the online exhibition with the link below. The Zoom Virtual Launch Event will be held Thursday, February 23, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Please click the link below to join us on Zoom.
View the exhibition:
(Please return any time after 5pm February 23 to click link here)
Join us on Zoom:
(Please return at 5pm February 23 to click link here)
Full exhibition text by gallery director Jesse Benson:
In considering an accounting of the impact of Charles Dickson, it is difficult to
decide where to begin. He is, without hyperbole, a master sculptor. That type of designation
is not issued commonly, but there are many reasons why a title of such magnitude should,
and often does accompany Dickson’s name. Over his 65-year practice, he has worked
with tireless energy to refine his understanding of traditional processes such as
glasswork; hand-carving in acrylic, wood, and stone; and metal manipulations like
welding, casting, and gilding, but an even more compelling case for Dickson as “master
sculptor” considers his constant experimentation with material amalgams of his own
Among Dickson’s most notable material innovations is a process the artist refers to as “HISPUF” — High Impact Styrene Plastic Urethane Form — involving the unique application of heated and stretched plastic over 3D objects. The HISPUF fabrication process was partially inspired by the artist’s fascination with aeronautical plastics, and produces results one-tenth of the weight of fiberglass. Though Dickson’s sculptural works range significantly in form, dimension, style, and mood, they often appear in conversation with assemblage histories. According to the artist, he is “consumed with how things work in a mechanical, creative, spiritual, and political context.”
As much as Dickson is committed and connected to materiality and process, he is equally devoted to community and to the subject of aesthetic production within the context of the African Black Diaspora. The evolution of Dickson’s perspective as a cultural producer has been crucially aligned with and influenced by Civil Rights and Black Pride Movements, Identity Politics, and the California Black Arts Movement. His mentors, peers, and inspirations include Black cultural icons John Outterbridge, Cecil Fergerson, Noah Purifoy, Charles White, John Riddle, Judson Powell, William Pajaud, Richmond Barthé, Willie Middlebrook, Betye Saar, and Alison Saar, as well as Italian American outsider artist Simon Rodia, hero of public art for working-class communities, champion of expression, and voice for the marginalized.
Dickson has personally known or exhibited with several of the aforementioned figures and dialogued with many regarding life, politics, and aesthetic production. He is considered a key figure in establishing the aesthetic language of Black Assemblage, and is celebrated as one of the prominent voices of the California Black Arts Movement. Dickson’s connection to the community in which he lives and operates reverberates from his well-known Compton studio, through his active participation in public programs, and always into his artwork. Dickson led the Compton Communicative Arts Academy’s Sculptural Workshop, which later became his home-based studio, and holds designations as Artist-in-Residence at the Watts Towers Art Center Campus and Caretaker of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia with LACMA’s preservation program.
Dickson’s project as an artist is best described in his own words. Commenting on the resilience, spiritual connectivity, and weight of significance within commonly collected (and historically colonized) African ritual objects, the artist writes: “African Americans’ influence, strength, and creative genius inform my work, which is rooted in ancient African figures from Senufo artisans. I have always used them, but didn’t really recognize their whispers. Now the world has documentation of the creative essence of undefeated people.”
Within the visual language of Dickson’s assemblages, references to traditional African forms like Ghanaian Adinkra symbols commonly overlap with contemporary Black Western cultural iconography, in all cases preserving and professing the dignity, power, and resistance to assimilation embedded in the referent material. In regard to his ongoing figurative studies, the artist comments: “They are not sexualized or politicized. They are independent, authentic, and real. My work with Black Nudes was the precursor for a much larger artistic dialogue on the politics of beauty and how the consequences of slavery reverberated in contemporary society. This dialogue propelled me to immerse myself in the artistic heritage of Africa, searching for the language, tools and symbols to recreate and recover the enormous spiritual influence and indigenous beauty reflecting the unique circumstances of the African American experience that traces back to its African origins.”
A giant within certain Los Angeles circles, Dickson has yet to receive the levels of international and institutional support granted to some of his peers and mentors, partially due to typical functionings of the apparatus, and partially due to Dickson’s active positioning of his work directly to the public, outside and beyond museological confines. His public works have always been designed as endeavors for the community, not as commodities to be auctioned for profit, stored away in a museum’s vault, or co-opted for easy cultural capital. Dickson’s public sculpture and installation practice is an ever-growing and truly remarkable gift to the city of Los Angeles and its inhabitants, in historical dialogue with some of the Southern California area’s most monumental public art achievements, like Rodia’s Watts Towers or Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree.
As the first artist commissioned for the Mariposa Metro Green-Line Station, Dickson’s design incorporated both the region’s connection to aerospace history and the local community’s contribution to preserving the El Segundo Blue Butterfly. The design weaves together stylized references to technology and nature, and includes intricate reliefs and benches shaped like butterfly clusters. His 10-foot eco-kinetic sculpture Wishing on a Star has been permanently and prominently installed in front of the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. The figurative sculpture is composed of repurposed objects, including a Dell computer, carburetor, funnel, socket wrenches, and rebar.
Dickson’s most ambitious public achievement to date is set to be unveiled in March in the heart of Leimert Park, a site well known to be reflective of Black pride and achievement in Los Angeles. Under the umbrella of a community project called Destination Crenshaw, Dickson has designed and produced a 20-foot work in stainless steel, titled Car Culture. In a nod to Crenshaw Boulevard’s iconic connection with lowrider subcultures, three giant West African Senufo-like statues in Dickson’s sculpture share a crown of cars, rhythmically pulsing together through attached fiberoptic cables.
In the realization of his public works, Dickson has worked with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, Offices of the Trust of Public Land LA River Center, Empowerment Congress, and Annenberg Foundation with Friends of the Watts Towers and Destination. From the artist, on being a conduit between past, present, and future: “I aspire to develop an archive and an art institute to provide a space for young minds to flourish. I aim to purchase an annex, a gallery, and educational art space in the City of Compton. This is part of my legacy. My mission is to transform lives through the power of art.”
For this very special Emeritus Gallery exhibition in its brick-and-mortar space, Dickson plans to install up to 12 sculptural works ranging in scale, material, and date of production. There will be entirely new investigations intermingled with objects completed decades ago, as well as new arrangements of existing sculptural components. The exhibition will include some bronze, carved-wood, and assemblage-based works, but will also constitute the largest display of HISPUF works to date, including human-scaled HISPUF works installed as if emerging from the gallery walls.
The exhibition is being designed by the artist with site-specific attention to Emeritus Gallery’s window-front architecture. The artist’s incredible large-scale assemblage — Bongo Congo: Mobilization of the Spirit — will be placed just inside the gallery’s windows, with the sculpture’s visual suggestion of movement (a marching-like forward momentum) echoing the pace of drivers and pedestrians moving past. For Dickson, the work “represents a culture in transition.”