The artist called ransome

‘Migration Collage' by ransome

Alexander Wilburn

The artist called ransome

If you claim a single sobriquet as your artistic moniker, you’re already in a club with some big names, from Zendaya to Beyoncé to the mysterious Banksy. At Geary, the contemporary art gallery in Millerton founded by New Yorkers Jack Geary and Dolly Bross Geary, a new installation and painting exhibition titled “The Bitter and the Sweet” showcases the work of the artist known only as ransome — all lowercase, like the nom de plume of the late Black American social critic bell hooks.

Currently based in Rhinebeck, N.Y., ransome’s work looks farther South and farther back — to The Great Migration, when Jim Crow laws, racial segregation, and the public violence of lynching paved the way for over six million Black Americans to seek haven in northern cities, particularly New York urban areas, like Brooklyn and Baltimore. The Great Migration took place from the turn of the 20th century up through the 1970s, and ransome’s own life is a reflection of the final wave — born in North Carolina, he found a new home in his youth in New Jersey.

‘Square Quilting painting' by ransomeAlexander Wilburn

Map fragments of North Carolina feature heavily in a large collection of eight-by-eight collage and acrylic paintings, sold individually but together mounted on Geary’s wall resembling the stitched patterns on quilts, like the quilts by the late Black American artist Arlonzia Pettway. Along with artists like Annie Mae Young and Mary Lee Bendolph, Pettway was a renowned artist associated with the quilts of Gee’s Bend, generations of women in the town of Gee’s Bend, Alabama who preserved African American culture in beautiful and vibrant textile art with bold combinations of stripes, textures and colors. The influence is also wonderfully clear in ransome large-scale collages and acrylic paintings like “Square Quilt painting” on display at Geary. It’s a powerful symbol of Gee’s Bend’s legacy continuing on, even under a new artistic medium.

In the smaller works, called “Migration Collages,” painted portraits are combined with pieces of floral and pastel paper, evocative of the tradition of “Sunday Best” splendor worn in Black churches in the South. “The women elders at my Baptist church often greeted each other that way on Sunday mornings when one hat was more elaborate, colorful, or wider brimmed than another,” New York Times veteran Lena Williams wrote in her 1996 essay, “In Defense of the Church Hat.” “It was traditional to put on one’s newest finery for church, and in many historically black churches, the wearing of fancy hats by women carried both spiritual and cultural significance.”

“The Bitter and the Sweet” is on view at Geary through Sunday, June 2.

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