Charles Moffett presents a dual-site exhibition on view through April 25 from mixed media artist Alteronce Gumby (b. 1985, Pennsylvania; MFA Yale, 2016). On display are works made using uncut gemstones.
The shows employ scale variance while pushing Gumby’s longtime thematic considerations of how light, physics, natural energies and color can be contextualized into a larger societal conversation about race, as well as social considerations pertaining to the spiritual practices native to the locations from which he sources the gemstones featured across his oeuvre. Also explored is the artist’s present-day elucidation of midcentury geometric abstraction.
A total of 15 works will be split between the exhibition’s dual sites. A selection of gemstone-heavy works on panel, ranging from 12-by-12 inches to six-by-six feet, will be on view at Charles Moffett’s Canal Street space, taking advantage of the gallery’s natural light to show off the works’ highly faceted surfaces. Meanwhile, the second component of the exhibition will exploit the vast size of False Flag’s Long Island City space by allowing Alteronce Gumby to push the boundaries of scale; its centerpiece will be a 24-foot-long canvas work (across six panels) that employs various shades of blue and focuses on metaphysical considerations that surround subjective perceptions of the sky.
A fresh take on shapes
In addition to the motif of color as a metaphor for racial identity, central to the show and Gumby’s practice is the contemporary reimagination of the white-male canon of early-twentieth-century to midcentury abstract art. Most foundationally, Gumby often employs a square or distinctly shaped canvas (rather than rectangular), in the tradition of seminal artists of geometric abstraction like Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly (and their predecessors, including Josef Albers, Piet Mondrian, and Kazimir Malevich). However, rather than exclusively as a formal device, Gumby uses these storied panel shapes as an exploratory framework for decidedly more complex devices, situating granular materials—stones, broken glass, crystals—into monochromatic arrangements that serve as analogies for multifaceted commentaries on race and other themes.
As one example, Gumby references Ad Reinhardt’s seminal monochromatic black works.
“Within my culture or my peer group, when we think of the color black, we’re not thinking of it as, to quote Reinhardt, as a ‘void,’ as a ‘vacuum,’ as something to just get lost in,” Gumby said. “The color black, I feel like in a Black community, holds so much more significance. I think the color black is probably the most diverse and unique color there is. Maybe I was born in a certain culture where there’s so many meanings for signs and symbols and signifiers behind color, but as an abstract painter and someone who’s involved in this trajectory, I want to add my perspective, or my voice, or my debate to the conversation.”
Of note to Gumby’s process is that when he renders what appears from a distance to be a black hue in one of his granular works, it’s often a careful combination of brightly painted glass and disparately monochromatic gemstones that, when combined in a specific arrangement, merges together to create a more-or-less monochromatic black surface.
“I mix ambers and earth tones, and blues and greens together to try to conjure this essence of blackness within a medium,” Gumby said. “I discovered that I could get such a diverse range of this color black by mixing all these colors together.”
This exercise ties into Gumby’s artistic exploration of color and race as a complex amalgamation of energies, as well as his regard for the cosmos and physics.
Alteronce Gumby’s Moonwalker
On view at Charles Moffett, and complimenting the 24-foot piece at False Flag as another conceptual centerpiece of the dual site show, is a series of five large-scale Moonwalker works—a term Gumby uses to describe his signature zigzag-shaped panels, which he developed in 2017. These large, gemstone-filled, monochromatic works each contain distinct energies provided by their constituent gems and minerals. For this body of work, the gemstones he sources are lapis, ruby, amethyst, rose quartz, lemon quartz, fluorite, black tourmaline, and citrine. Each of the Moonwalkers in the show contains up to 40 raw, uncut gemstones, which Gumby integrates onto the panel with painted glass before sealing with acrylic.
Regarding the incorporation of painted glass across his works, one of Gumby’s core materials is shards of glass panels that he painted before shattering. This practice and resulting shard integration represent cycles of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. An additional layer of meaning in this set of five individually colored Moonwalkers stems from Gumby’s childhood love of the Power Rangers. In this case, the significance of the Power Rangers specifically rests in Gumby’s continued fascination with color theory and the type of sci-fi storyline first introduced to him by way of the franchise—a fascination he retroactively attributes to the Power Rangers’ emphasis on color as a reference for race.
“The Power Rangers for me is another reference for color in its relationship to race. As a kid, I loved the show,” Gumby said. “My brothers and I took karate classes at the Y and the sci-fi nature of the storyline is something I think about today. Looking back, you can’t help but to notice the relation between race and the colors each ranger wore. The leader of the group, the Red Ranger, having the most diverse ethnicity of them all. For a Black kid to see the Black Ranger kicking ass every Saturday morning definitely had huge influence. Each ranger held their own in battle but when the enemy or trouble was too big, they had to unite their strengths to create Megazord to finally destroy the monster. I think there’s something about the colors or race coming together to overthrow an evil.”
Gumby named the Moonwalker pieces as such because their “gravity-defying nature” reminded him of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk when he developed the panel shape in 2017.
Astrology and the cosmos are fundamental to not only Gumby’s spirituality and worldview, but to the actual fabric of his compositions. When he is starting a new work, after his initial steps of determining what mood he wants to evoke, what his dominant painted-glass shard color should be and what gemstones might most effectively conjure the right energy for the piece, Gumby first charges the stones in direct sunlight for several days to manifest their full energies, then lays them on the canvas or panel surface in the form of particular constellations. The constellations often correlate with his own sun, moon, and rising signs, but are sometimes simply dictated by his mood or the season.
While the final compositions’ constituent glass and stones might appear to be arbitrarily scattered, there are, in fact, multiple specific star sign constellations within the material arrangement. This tangible integration of celestial energy furthers the artist’s overall examination of the universe’s cosmic interrelatedness.