Powerful Urban Portraiture by Awol Erizku

Jun 20, 2012

By Oscar A. Laluyan
June 20, 2012

Posed. Elegant. Regal.  These are adjectives that come up when you think of classic portraiture ever since that the rich and nobility commissioned them from legendary artists all throughout history. It is 2012 and the same sequence of words came up upon viewing the photography of Awol Erizku last June 14th with his opening reception at HASTED KRAEUTLER in Chelsea. Arte Fuse witnessed a Renaissance tinged aesthetic quality but with a contemporary twist of Erizku’s current series.

Erizku directly referenced classic works of art and his intention is to represent models of color. Throughout art history when portraits were at their zenith, there was certainly a lack of racial diversity. The painted pictures  during that time were not only to immortalize someone but it served as a status symbol. Deftly using a lush grade of jewel tone colors on his subject’s clothing and the inky dark background that Erizku has elevated his non-professional African American models became royalty befitting of the artistic treatment.

Case in point would be the cover art used to promote the show. Erizku made the urban contemporary version of Johannes Vermeer’s  “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (c.1665) by replacing the model with an African American woman maintaining the integrity of the pose and mood but this time it’s called “Girl with a Bamboo Earring” (2009). Growing up in the Bronx, this prompted Erizku to create a dignified state for the everyday people that surrounded him but not necessarily represented in a positive light. Other consecutive photographs expressed a reserved glamour and not hyper-stylized. Some of the subjects donned street clothes as in “Girl with a Blackberry” (2011) and included such technological device to clearly illustrate that the picture belonged in this century.

Erizku approached the models featured in the photos via the streets, subways, and by the Internet like Facebook. It adheres to the philosophy that alluring eternal beauty emanates from within. Each photo presents proud individuals that are comfortable in their own skin. The execution of the portraits is flawless in paying due respect to the intensity and color tonality of the revered masterworks. For this alone that Erizku makes a powerful stance in achieving true nobility by the subtle grace expressed vividly in his photos.

Awol Erizku / On View: June 14 – July 20, 2012
Gallery Schedule: Tuesday to Saturday (11 am – 6 pm) & by appt.
HASTED KRAEUTLER. 537 West 24th Street. New York, NY 10011