Glenn Ligon is an artist who resists easy categorization, as his works incorporate the historical with the contemporary and the socially inflected with the aesthetically complex, Best known as a painter who uses language both as image and as communication tool, Ligon addresses issues of race and culture by incorporating quotations from socially and politically charged material into his work. His word paintings excerpt evocative texts by such writers as James Baldwin, Jean Genet, and Zora Neale Hurston. The artist has said that he “wants to make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it.” These concerns are infused in Ligon’s work with the sensibilities of Conceptualism, Minimalist Art, and Appropriation Art.
Ligon has also begun to explore the luminescence of black coal dust as a metaphorically rich material in paintings and drawings that further probe the complex intermingling of culture, politics, history, and art. Untitled (Stranger in the Village #16) is among these works–Ligon excerpts text from James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village,” which relates the author’s experience of being an American and an African American in a foreign land. The artist comments, “[This] duality has always been a real fascination to me in relation to questions of autobiography and identity. Again, one can’t talk about the self outside of history and the history of representation.”
In his trademark style, Ligon takes language in this painting to the edge of visibility. Some parts of the text are barely legible, but on the whole, the painting becomes an expansive field of language that borders on abstraction. Blacker than black, with a hint of red seeming to glow from beneath, the surface of the painting is decidedly dense, like a night sky.
This painting joins several other works by Ligon in the Walker’s permanent collection, including a sculpture and two portfolios of prints. From July 1999 to April 2000, Ligon was a Walker Artist-in-Residence. Currently on view in the Andersen Window Gallery is Artist-in-Residence: Glenn Ligon, an exhibition that highlights various aspects of his residency. He will also be the focus of a solo exhibition opening at the Walker in October 2000.