ARTS

THE RITZ'S "THROUGH OUR EYES" OFFERS DEEP ARTISTIC PERSPECTIVES

The annual exhibit of works by local African-American artists continues to show fresh, inventive art

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Local artist Keith Doles' colorful mixed-media piece In Concert shows a line of 
 revelers waiting to get into the Ritz Theatre & Museum for what one can only guess will be a night of music and merriment.

Princess Simpson Rashid's Blue Satellite, a journey through a sea of blues, greens, yellows and purples, is one of the last paintings she did in a series of poured acrylics that expounded on the relationship among science, abstract art and perception.

These works are presented in Through Our Eyes: Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey (An Artistic Revolution), Ritz Theatre & Museum's current exhibit, which is on display through July 28. The annual show is Jacksonville's longest-running visual art exhibit showcasing new works by African-American artists.

"Lydia P. Stewart conceived, developed and curated the exhibit for 22 years, first at WJCT, and for the past 15 years at Ritz Theatre and Museum with my assistance," says museum assistant Adonnica L. Toler. "The purpose has always been to nurture African-American artists and expand the audience of art lovers who support the artists and are enriched by their limitless creativity."

The theme for this year's Through Our Eyes show features works by 20 local African-American artists including Overstreet Ducasse, Melody Jackson, Traci Mims, Ernani Silva and Laurence Walden.

The Northeast Florida-based artist Annelies M. Dykgraaf has been participating in Through Our Eyes since 2004, through her association as a founder of the JCAAA (Jacksonville Consortium of African American Artists).

"I am the token real ‘African' — not African-American — of the group by being born in Nigeria and living there for 18 years," Dykgraaf explains. "Always look deeper than skin color to get to know someone and their history and the journey of their life. There is a whole lot more to a person than the surface you see."

Dykgraaf has several pieces in the show. Her linocut, The Harvest, inspired by a family trip to Guatemala, draws on the similarities of third-world cultures with rich history.

"It has Mayan, African and religious symbols," she says of the print. "For centuries, candles of different colors have been burned to attract desired emotions, material wealth or karma. Candles can be one of the most effective tools used for meditation, rituals and other ceremonies."

This is Princess Rashid's third time participating in Through Our Eyes. She exhibited several pieces of her works in 2005 
and 2006. This year, the Atlanta native is exhibiting five paintings and screening a two-minute video documenting a large commission she did recently for an accounting firm in Tampa. At an artist's talk to be held on July 7, Rashid will discuss "Controlled Spontaneity," concerning different layering methods.

"Through Our Eyes celebrates living African-American artists in our community," says Rashid. "It is significant and important that institutions, such as museums, provide a platform for living artists to be recognized and their work presented to the public in the appropriate manner. This exhibit has consistently done that over the years."

Jacksonville-born-and-bred painter Keith Doles has contributed work, off and on, to Through Our Eyes since 2001 while he was still a college student at the University of North Florida. This year, Doles offers a fine art portfolio workshop, with artist Pablo Rivera and Jen Jones, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21; admission is $14.65.

"I have gotten to know the majority of artists that participate each year pretty well," Doles says. "So it's like a family reunion to me. I'm always impressed to see new talent come to the Ritz and I usually hear comments from the public about what a hidden gem this place is. It's worth a visit to explore the history of Jacksonville and the region at any time of the year."

With founder and curator Stewart recently retired as the Ritz's museum administrator, Toler will be taking over the planning and execution of the future Through Our Eyes exhibitions.

"This annual exhibit is a vehicle that has given local African-American artists the support and promotion they need share their art with the community," Toler says. "Many of the artists have shared with me that Through Our Eyes is the standard by which they challenge themselves to grow and take risks and is the exhibit they want to debut their new work."

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