In the new edition of Plumage-TX Magazine, Art Consultant, Katherine (Kat) Shevchenko dissects the estate of F.L. "Doc" Spellmon.
You can read it here at:
The “Doc” Is In
The Art of F.L. “Doc” Spellmon: A Closer Look
I recently had the pleasure to become acquainted with the artwork of F.L. “Doc” Spellmon, an African American artist who produced works in various media in San Antonio, Texas, and was most prolific during the 1980’s. Known as having an affable and joyous nature, Spellmon created pieces that were informed by recent Black history yet emulated experimental processes that included collage, found objects, and layers of painterly applications. On the surface, Spellmon’s paintings and drawings appear naïve and are even categorized as “outsider” due to their character of disproportionate figures, use of found materials, collaged elements, and a palette that at times bordered on the fringes of Day-Glo in its earnestness, all sealed with a finishing touch of sprinkled multicolored glitter. The application of the layers of paint and ephemera sometimes buckle and create undulating surfaces. A textural narrative topography, his artworks were born of sincere contemplation of prime issues that permeated his consciousness: civil rights, the nearly forgotten and overlooked Black culture of the rural South, and religious themes. Through his creative process a transmogrification occurs with the touch of his hand, and suddenly mundane materials are transmitting dramatic parables of times past, present and future.
“Girls Picking Berries” is an acrylic painted on an oven baked serving platter that is mainly octagon-shaped, portraying a slice of life subject. It shows a microcosm of a time and a place, through a subset of a more idyllic and sentimental lens, due to the presence of two black girls with skin painted in exaggerated depth of cartoonish tone, almost bordering on Blackface caricature that all his figures seem to possess in his works. They are in search of berries growing along the riverbank, with sacks hopefully becoming heavy with bounty. In the distance is a quaint looking village: a cluster of white houses with red earth colored roofs with a focal point of a church and a white cross, exaggerated in scale. The ruby red sun is the only other subject that competes for attention, located in the upper central portion of the composition. In the middle ground, there is a body of water with a boat carrying two fishermen who are in repose, contributing to the poignancy of a moment of leisure. Perhaps it is Sunday, the day of rest, as intimated by the cross that is a guidepost for the community. The chance to catch a moment of respite and to catch up on life’s pleasures, however humble, is in no way diminished by its significant meaningfulness bestowed on well being, like a fresh berry in all its succulent sweetness.
In contrast to tranquil moments, Spellmon also explores inner nightmares and demons that emerge from the murky psyche, and can hearken a deathlike night of the soul. “That Day,” a mixed media piece, emotes an undeniable power, as disembodied faces with menaced expressions float in a field that covers the picture plane. The color scheme has taken a departure from bucolic pleasantry to one dominated by black with sickly greens and yellow tones with jarring accents of aggressive orange. The dominant faces are primitive, made by black, almost crude scrawling strokes. Mask-like and resembling skulls, they are positioned in quadrants around the composition. Interspersed throughout are a multitude of smaller faces, done in a simpler fashion, yet the expressions are not lost, as they sink in a morass of anonymity. Various hues of paint are layered upon the collaged paper, plastered upon black board. The artist has not left or revealed any other reference to an event or in particular a clue as to the context this piece could be alluding to. What is revealed in plain sight is a gesticulation of observation of human moral fallibility. An overall consensus of oppression overwhelms, and transcends beyond just a specific range of linear historical time as the layers of faces cluster and get subsumed in the overall chaos but are yet held in place by the monumentally static position of the anchored specter heads. The urgency is all too apparent in the frenzied application of the colors slashing across the panel, creating a thunderous monument to the voiceless downtrodden.
Spellmon was the son of a minister and spent hours poring over the illustrations in his biblical texts, kindling his lifelong love for art, which he “never outgrew.” “Madonna and Child” is an example of Spellmon incorporating religious archetypes into his signature style, infusing the Madonna’s skin tones with an exaggerated “blackness.” As she holds the infant, his tiny elongated arms reach out for an embrace. Glitter is used as an element, perhaps as a unifying sealer of the entire surface, as it has been applied liberally all over the painting. A radiating halo of various colors and lines emanates from the Madonna’s head and is representative of spiritual light and energy. The features of the Madonna and child are rendered in a naïve and outsider fashion, with white brush stroke outlines for the eyes and mouth, yet the expressions of calmness are apparent. Even though Spellmon has an art degree and is formally trained, he makes deliberate choices with rendering inordinate figurative proportions and using an outsider application with his methods, which are the core of his expressionistic appeal. There seems to be an underlying imbuement of frenzied application as evidenced in the many layers of vibrational linear brush strokes that compromise the halo rays; the multiple layers of glitter produce chromatic excitation that unify the painting as an energetic prayer.
Philosophically and aesthetically his intent stems from the inward need to express and tap into the powerful connective ability of art that builds bridges from past memories of a specific culture, time, and place that could have been forgotten to be seen and viewed by the light of the present day.
©Katherine Shevchenko, Art Consultant, Boerne
Banks, Robert H., and Andrea Marshall. F.L. "Doc" Spellmon. Dallas: Banks Fine Art, 2014. Print.