FATE, TIMING, AND TALENT COMBINED TO CREATE THIS 20-YEAR ASSOCIATION AND ITS DISTINCTIVE, THOUGHT PROVOKING VISION
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
Arriving in New York City from his native Salisbury, North Carolina a year prior, Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave walked into Greg Smith’s Exhibit A gallery in SoHo in 1998 on the recommendation of a friend and with a stack of drawings under his arm, hoping to get his vibrant works into a gallery setting.
Smith offered the young artist a solo show “on the spot,” Hargrave related. Thus began an enduring friendship and professional association between the two that has stretched over two decades.
“We just clicked,” Hargrave recalled. “Greg is nice, which can be rare in the art world.”
“When we unwrapped the drawings, I realized within seconds I was meeting someone with a highly sophisticated intellectual construct for his work,” Smith recounted. “It was work that was like a sudden and sharp paper cut to a world of racial and cultural assumptions. I had been looking at some great work by (African-American artists) Robert Colescott, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence at the time, and thought I was in a bit of a comfort zone. That all changed in about 10 seconds.”
Born to a family of six children and considered a prodigy, Hargrave grew up in a sharply divided community in the 1970s where being young, black, and gay added further layers of complication to an already highly-charged existence. He was educated at the University of North Carolina, the Rhode Island School of Design, and New York’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
“I went to school with a lot of wealthy people and saw socioeconomic differences that influenced my art,” said Hargrave. “ e art I experienced in my middle class African-American neighborhood that I was exposed to as a kid planted the seed. Meeting Greg in New York came at a crucial time in my life.” Smith included Hargrave’s works in catalogues and advertising, which led to a smash 2015 solo exhibition at the Bronx Museum titled “Escape Route.” at was followed by a triumphant 2019 show, “Dixie Homecoming,” at the 60th-anniversary exhibition of Water Works Visual Arts Center in his North Carolina hometown.
e artist’s paintings, drawings, and prints have been shown and collected at art fairs and galleries in New York, Istanbul, and Hong Kong among other cities here and abroad, including the highly competitive Aqua Art Miami and that city’s Art Basel. Currently, his work is being shown at Smith’s new 7,000-squarefoot Contemporary Art and Editions in Florham Park as part of a “Women in Art” show, which addresses ideas about women in politics, fashion, and other spheres.
“Jeffrey’s ‘Escape Route’ came through the talent and courage to confront clichés by poking fun at art history’s obsessions and conformity to stereotypes,” Smith noted. “What emerged has the power of a distinctly African-American palette, and the almost comedic energy of a Dick Gregory or an Eddie Murphy. It’s very unique.”
Smith observed that Hargrave’s recent paintings of women, like “Lil Black Girl” and “Red Negro Matisse,” upend art history “and any semblance of restraint when it comes to political correctness, which makes them excellent. It’s not just the freedom of his hand and his sense of subject and composition, it’s the freedom of his mind to look at the world in a whole different way.” The two friends are collaborating on a multiple-print project this year, as well as an exhibition this fall in Lugano, Switzerland.
“Since we met, all that has happened is because Greg had faith in me, supported me, and gave me opportunities,” Hargrave said with a smile.
Contemporary Art And Editions / Florham Park / 917.763.2005