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Pinkney Herbert: 30 Years of Paintings


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If you've never seen a Pinkney Herbert painting, now is your chance to see a lot of them. Herbert's work, including drawings, is on view in two shows: "Distilled: The Narrative Transformed" at Crosstown Arts and "Arcadia" at the David Lusk Gallery.

"It's all about Pinkney," jokes Herbert, 64. "I've got the big head. It's all me."

Herbert's work has been displayed in national and international collections and in the permanent collections at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and other museums. Herbert, who taught painting and drawing at Rhodes College and the University of Memphis, is founding director of the Marshall Arts alternative gallery. He's president of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts-France, a residency program in Auvillar, France.

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Herbert has painted from an early age. "In kindergarten I learned how to finger paint. I've been finger painting ever since."

He moved to Memphis in 1973 to attend Rhodes College. In the 1980s, he and his wife, Janice, moved to New York. "I had graduated from the University of Memphis with an MFA," Herbert says. "And Janice and I decided we've got to go to where all the art activity is going on. We had some friends up there. It was my best education — becoming an artist and being able to go to museums and art galleries."

One of his daughters, Suzannah, a documentary filmmaker, was born in New York. His other daughter, Waverly, is a fiction writer. "They both went to NYU and have lived in New York the last 10 years. We've been subletting different places in New York. We have a dual citizenship."

Herbert's Crosstown Arts show is a retrospective that includes his work from the early 1980s to 2018. "It's about my move. I was a narrative allegorical storyteller painter. I was a figurative painter in college and continued to paint the figure in the 1980s. In New York, it's sort of autobiographical paintings dealing with childhood memories. I was reading all of the big books — Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, Carl Jung — influencing energy in those story-telling paintings. Then the work became more abstract."

The earliest piece in the Crosstown Arts show dates to 1983. "It's an oil painting on canvas I did right when I moved to New York City in 1983. It's the first painting you'll see when you walk in the gallery." It's called "Maelstrom" and Herbert says the painting is about "moving in Times Square when it was crazy and dangerous and my body felt like it was caught up in a whirlpool of activity."

The David Lusk show features Herbert's latest work. "The more recent work is influenced by being in New York with the energy and the velocity of the city," Herbert says. "The architectural influence and the subway and being below the ground. It's just this musical, noisy place."

But Herbert says he also "loves and carries with me in my bones the whole Memphis music scene. Memphis is real. Memphis is base. A great place to create. Look at the history of writing, music, and the visual space. It's a fecundity."

Herbert named his Lusk show "Arcadia" because he feels New York is an "urban Arcadia." "I still have feelings of desperately loving it and hating it at the same time. We lived there in the 1980s when it was dangerous. Now it's a pretty safe place, but it still has the energy that inspires and motivates me." "Distilled: The Narrative Transformed" will be on display through July 4th in Crosstown Arts' East and West Galleries in the new space at Crosstown Concourse, Suite 280. "Arcadia" will be on view through June 23rd  at David Lusk Gallery at 97 Tillman.

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