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  • Writer's pictureArtists in Rise


Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Primer 2, 2021. ​​​​​​​Image courtesy of Cullen Washington Jr.'s Studio.

Scars. Mended flesh. Memorialized wounds. Reminders of time, space, existence.

Cullen Washington Jr. is an abstract painter who contemplates the experience of Black scarring in his latest series Primers. These large scale paintings conjure thoughts of human history and experience. The injustices of modernity acted out by humanity, on humanity, for the advancement of industry. They go beyond the physical aspects of pain in real time and raise a sense of existential questioning. How did these scars come to be? How have they healed?

Each piece is composed of collaged paper, to which Washington reveals that “as I mend the paper together, they mend wounds.” The resulting compositions are based on a grid where space is flattened and time is suspended. Throughout this series, Washington uses graphite, charcoal, ground mineral pigments and ink, “a primordial mixture using the basic element carbon found in most natural phenomena” to create allotropic surfaces. CMYK: cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), the pigments used in printing systems, are the colors used to compose and softly disrupt the seemingly impenetrable blackness.

Primer 3, 2021. ​​​​​​​Image courtesy of Cullen Washington Jr.'s Studio.

Primer 3 is grounded on a 2x3, 92”x 44” rectangular grid. The edges of each panel look as though they have been welded together. Midnight blacks and ghostly greys swim across the typographic surface of the grid. Three vertical beams of ultra light yellows and magentas pulsate back and forth into space. On the left side is a yellow beam centered almost perfectly within the first panel of the grid and bleeding out toward the sides into ambient magentas. The welded edges of the left panels of the grid are untouched by this beam's light. Towards the center-right side of the canvas, the beams have a stronger presence relative to the black planes. The horizontal grid lines disappear as they intersect with the radiant vertical magenta and yellow lines, while the black vertical line is emphasized. The effect is a breaking up of time and space. A temporary portal that extends beyond the vast grid into another realm entirely.

Primer 4, 2021. Image courtesy of Cullen Washington Jr.'s Studio.

Primer 4 is also composed of a 2x3 grid but uses slightly different compositional elements to mark time, space, and consciousness. The same rich blacks and greys that are found in the grid of Primer 3 exist here as well. There are three distinct vertical lines placed in the left side of each panel, the center line extends from the top to the bottom of the canvas while the left and right are only in the lower panels. The milky, cloud-like greys and whites roll across the grid, sometimes mimicking these distinct lines, like a spirit blending between the now and the afterlife. Sprinkled in between the left and center panels of the grid are dots of cyan, magenta, and yellow; a subtler interruption of space than in Primer 3. The repetitiveness of the vertical lines, omnipresence of the glowing grey hues, random blotches of black and sprinkled color, give a strange sense of memory or a damaged record. Like a film reel that had been destroyed or a closed-eye hallucination. Marks were made at a specific time, but haunt, disappear, heal, and deteriorate as existence moves forward.

Detail of Primer 2, 2021. Image courtesy of Cullen Washington Jr.'s Studio.

In Washington’s own words, “the works’ goal is to embrace these concepts and tragedies and turn them into a transcendent experience. For me, they represent not only the fields my Fore-fathers and Mothers toiled in but also the field of space and time.” Keloids rising above the skin, transcending black fields into the above, through blackness beyond the universe. Perhaps to The Beginning, perhaps to God. Fluctuations between the atrocities of slavery, an attempt to sutture them through the 13th and 14th Amendments, and our existences beyond known human experiences are realized in Washington’s Primers.

Cullen Washington Jr. has participated in several artist residencies including, The Skowhagen School of Painting and Sculpture, The Studio Museum, and The Joan Mitchell Foundation. Learn more and stay updated on Cullen's happenings: Website: Instagram: @cullenwashingtonjr


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