ALBANY — Henry Lee Gorham, an artist from McRae, uses the fictional town of Small Grove to tell the story of the southern United States and the experiences of the African-American rural community through his paintings.
The Renaissance Connection brought Gorham’s work to the Albany Area Arts Council, located at 215 N. Jackson St., through March 21 via a partnership.
“My favorite part about this exhibit is the partnership we have with the Renaissance Connection,” Nicole Williams, executive director of the arts council, said.
Gorham, 68, has not had his work exhibited in Albany before. The collection depicting Small Grove is part of an ongoing project.
“I wanted to say something using people,” he said.
Small Grove is surrounded by landscapes and hills and valleys with wild flowers, trees and streams. Characters such as Willie, Mamie and Jasper reflect the lives of the people from the era Gorham portrays and are depicted in their day jobs and interactions with others in their community.
“The First Wedding of Willie Johnson,” “The First Son of Willie Johnson,” “Friday Night Fish Fry at Annie Mae’s Cafe” and “Blues Night at Annie Mae’s” are among the works in the collection.
Much of the series is based on the subject matter the artist enjoys himself, stories he heard from his elders as a child or something that might be relatable to others.
“I paint something I remember, something I read about or have been told by other people,” Gorham said. “I love them all, no matter how big or small.”
As far as Gorham’s intentions for the viewer are concerned, he said he primarily wants people to enjoy what they see.
“It would be nice if someone wants to (buy) one, but I just like showing it,” he said.
Gorham was educated at the Art Institute of Atlanta. His employment opportunities have included a college work study at Lang-Carson Recreation Center, “The Covington News” as a paste-up and layout artist, and the operation of the Arts of Sorts studio in McRae. His works have been exhibited in places including The Historic Ritz Theatre in Brunswick, the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon, the Carriage Works Gallery in Atlanta and the John Marlor Art Center in Milledgeville.
Gorham said he began painting in 1992, and he notes it’s likely he will continue doing it for awhile.
“Actually, I don’t see a stop,” Gorham said.
Femi Anderson, executive director of Renaissance Connection, said Gorham’s exhibit came to Albany as part of the partnership between the arts council and Renaissance Connection — which has brought in an exhibit every February for the last three years as part of Black History Month.
“During Black History Month, we try to showcase African-American artists as well as other minorities,” Anderson said. “A partnership with the Arts Council (makes it possible) to show it here. There are almost 50 pieces of work (in Gorham’s exhibit), and there is space to host it.”
Anderson said the artist from last year’s Black History Month exhibit recommended Gorham.
“He had never been here before. We always try to promote artists, and he had not been showcased in a while,” she said. “We are hoping (through this exhibit) that people will continue to have a love of artists, and people who are not artists become art lovers.”
The fact that Gorham seeks to portray a culture through his work makes it an ideal way of recognizing Black History Month, Anderson said.
“He is a dreamer, but allows (the viewers of the art) to dream,” she said. “He used it to his advantage, and he was able to really dream.”
Anderson said this exhibit is expected to be the last the Renaissance Center brings to the Arts Council, at least for some time. At its own gallery at the Renaissance Art Cafe, located at 123 N. Front St., another exhibit is expected to open in April.
“We are starting the process of doing our own exhibits, too,” she said. “We are hoping people come out (to Gorham’s exhibit) on their lunch breaks. We try to get people to bring other people.”
The Albany Arts Arts Council gallery is open from noon-4 p.m. on Mondays, 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays, noon-4 p.m. on Wednesdays and noon-8 p.m. on Thursdays.