Retrospective Honors Expat Artist’s Career

CUERNAVACA – Joseph Lofton’s 50-year retrospective on exhibit through March 11 at the Jardin Borda is reason enough to visit this city of eternal spring which has been the African-American artist’s home since 1991.

The show, which was inaugurated on Feb. 2 by Martha Ketchum, director of the Morelos Cultural Institute, brings together some 80 paintings that span a period from 1956 to 2006, and are divided into four collections: “Abstractions,” “Toda es música,” “Con México en el corazón,” and “Medioambiente.”

While each collection represents a different period in the artist’s life, there is a definite style and composition that connects all of his paintings. His work is defined by the use of the brilliant color and bold, angular strokes, as well as the tendency to draw subjects in a flat, frontal manner with little attention to perspective. This naïve-like style has become one of the trademarks and he has developed it in his own particular way.

Visual Rhythm

Rhythm is another constant in his work, especially noticeable in his dancers at the Savoy dance hall which Lofton frequented years ago in Harlem. His figures bend and move in perfect harmony as they flow across the canvas. His love of music is captured by one of his favorite subjects: jazz musicians playing in New York’s famous jazz bars. Trumpet, piano and sax players converge in these small clubs and jam into the wee hours of the night.

Lofton’s innovative technique consists of his own version of collage. He cuts pieces of painted canvas and glues them on top of his original painting. He also piles up streaks of acrylic pain, giving added texture to his work.

The more recent pieces in his collection “Medio Ambiente” address worldly issues, such as religious intolerance, war, racism and inequality. “The artist must inevitably reflect his time … this is my time,” the artist says.

In one painting, he makes his anti-war position clear with the quote, “I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war” written clearly for the viewer to see.

Lofton was born in Orlando, Florida, but moved to New York with his parents at an early age. He developed his style at the Art Students League (1948-1954) and the New York School of Visual Arts (1971-72). His early work was influenced by the abstract expressionist movement in New York in the 50s and 60s.