Centering Artistic Portraiture, a New Gallery Opens Downtown—and on Your Computer

From the show 'Royaltee' by Kamari Bright, now showing at Perspectives in Portraiture.
From the show 'Royaltee' by Kamari Bright, now showing at Perspectives in Portraiture.

It’s the most logical explanation, but Jolyn GC doesn’t care much for its prosaicness: the initials she uses as an artist are short for her maiden and married name, Gardner-Campbell. “It also stands for gallery and consulting,” she says. “And greatness convener. Or genius curator.”

The last acronym is a recent addition to the list. This month, Gardner-Campbell premiered Perspectives in Portraiture, an online gallery and ongoing pop-up artist talk and exhibition every second Thursday of the month. The series focuses on the visual work of Seattle-based artists of the African diaspora. The first installment, the photo series Royaltee by Kamari Bright, is viewable online.

“My name has, like me, seen so many evolutions,” Gardner-Campbell says. In a former life she was a prosecutor. Back then, some seven years ago, she didn’t know she could paint. All she knew was that during her last rotation, when she was placed to work in King County’s Juvenile Court system, she kept needing to recuse herself.

“Time and time again the youth were from my neighborhood,” she explains. “Maybe they attended my high school, or their parents did, but it was always something. I started wondering: Why are so many of these youths of my community coming through these doors? I sat right at the gate of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Jolyn GC by Penny Rambayon Miranda
Jolyn GC by Penny Rambayon Miranda

She was overrun by disappointment in a broken system that targeted Black and brown youth. The challenges she witnessed in the courtroom demanded a creative counterweight. “I didn’t realize that art could be a part of that back then,” she says. When she finally took to painting, as part of a self-imposed “31 days of art” regimen, she found she was not only good at it, but that others thought so too. “All of a sudden, my life was art. I’d never felt more alive. I’d always thought being an attorney was my life. But art helped me figure out my identity”

That’s why she launched TEENERGY, a social justice art program that teaches teens to use their creative voice for social change, which she runs part-time in combination with her artistic and curatorial activities. It’s also why, in 2014, she started an exhibition platform to feature up-and-coming Black artists. A lack of funds caused it to fizzle out, but she never let go of her original dream.

That dream appears unscathed in Perspectives in Portraiture, which creates a space for art from emerging Black artists. Knowing that her artist friends had no gallery representation, and reading a study that found that only 8.5 percent of artists represented by New York galleries were Black despite making up 16 percent of the population, further fueled her desire to create a gallery herself. With funding from Office of Arts & Culture and the World Domination Summit Foundation and support from co-working conglomerate WeWork, who allows her to use part of their downtown Seattle offices, Gardner-Campbell was able to curate a year-long series of monthly shows.

Seattle artist Barry Johnson will perform in the space during his one-day pop-up solo show next month (full disclosure: Johnson is digital lead at City Arts Magazine). The slots for the next 10 months are filled with local luminaries such as Jazz Brown, Jessica Rycheal, Aramis Hamer and Ari Glass, and the roster for 2019 is already filling up.

The artists all have a unique perspective on what it’s like to be Black and creative in Seattle, Gardner-Campbell says. When I ask her about her personal experience, she relays the time her work was deemed “too ethnic” by a grant panelist, her voice cracking. “Apparently a lot of other artists here have had the same experiences,” she says. “Art that was made for our community was deemed too foreign because it propelled Black-centered ideas.”

But Gardner-Campbell kept creating mixed-media collages with traditional African textiles and colorful silhouettes. In December, the last pop-up of the year, she’ll debut her new series of portraits of the participating artists in Perspectives in Portraiture. “The idea is to paint them on banners, probably muslin or a soft fabric, because it’s something that can be easily packed away. Which shows how one minute someone lives here and the other they are displaced. But the banners, with colorful African textiles, will be vibrant. They will say, We’re still here.”

The monthly Perspectives in Portraiture exhibit is available both online and during the live pop-up every second Thursday, starting at noon to 6 p.m. at WeWork Westlake Tower, with an artist talk at 3 p.m.