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Artist Rico Gatson brings Rev. Shuttlesworth to life at the BMA

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By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

Rico Gatson, a multidisciplinary artist working from Brooklyn, New York, is familiar with Birmingham’s Civil Rights history. Now he’s found a way to contribute to it.

Gatson is the featured artist for the Birmingham Museum of Art’s second iteration of its exhibition series Wall to Wall presented by PNC. The artist, who is known to do portraits of significant persons as it relates to African American history, transformed the walls of the museum lobby with a colorful, life-size image of iconic Birmingham figure, The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth as well as an abstract composition.

“I wanted to highlight Shuttleworth because of the history with Dr. [Martin Luther King Jr.] and the national Civil Rights Movement,” Gatson said.

Wall to Wall is an ongoing project that invites artists to activate the Museum’s lobby and cafe with artwork inspired by the city of Birmingham.

On Aug. 5, guests attending the Museum’s signature event, Art On The Rocks, are invited to paint alongside Gatson in the lobby to help complete the installation of Rev. Shuttlesworth. Through community engagement, Gatson hopes to bring the energy from the Civil Rights movement into the present.

“I know a lot about the history as it relates to the Civil Rights Movement and I’ve visited a lot of sites there like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and I’ve spoken with members of the Shuttlesworth family and it’s been a powerful experience just to observe the history,” Gatson said.

Through childhood, Gatson said he would learn about general Black history and as an adult he began to do his own research specifically to learn events that took place in the South. As an abstract artist his artwork is influenced by the history of Black people, he said.

“Due to me knowing the history there in Birmingham, during the [Aug. 5 event] I want people to feel a sense of community, beauty light and a sense of togetherness while celebrating an impo

For almost two decades, Gatson has been celebrated for his artworks based on significant moments in Black history.

Gatson was born in Augusta, GA and but was raised in Southern California. In school, his primary focus was primarily academics and sports. In elementary school up through high school while was only drawing and painting he enjoyed that aspect of art. After graduating high school in California he pursued and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Bethel College in St. Paul Minnesota in 1989.

“I entered the world as an artist. As long as I can remember I’ve always been very visual and interested in making art. More than anything my mom encouraged that part of me,” said Gatson.

During his time at Bethel College he became close friends with his sculpting professor who was supportive and encouraged Gatson when it came to art.

“He’s the one that encouraged me to apply to graduate schools my junior year in college,” said Gatson.

“I applied for the best schools for arts I was really fortunate and blessed to be accepted to Yale,” where he received his Master of Fine Arts from Yale School of Arts in 1991.

He is currently a part time adjunct professor at New York University and the School of Visual Arts in New York City. At New York University he teaches foundation sculpture to first year students and at the School of Fine Arts he teaches Masters of Fine Arts to multidisciplinary artist everything he does within his own practice. That consists of sculpture, painting, videography, and photography.

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Related Programs:

Wed. August 3: Illuminating Shuttlesworth

Join the Museum for an evening honoring the life and legacy of The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth. Shuttlesworth’s role as the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as an integral leader in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign helped to bring national attention to the integration efforts happening in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. In this discussion, the BMA is joined by members of Shuttlesworth’s family; Rico Gatson, the featured artist of the BMA’s latest Wall to Wall installation, who chose Shuttlesworth as the theme for his community mural; Siddhartha Mitter, NY Times art journalist; and Martha Bouyer, the educational coordinator for Bethel Baptist Church.

Friday, August 5: Art On The Rocks

Art On The Rocks is back with the biggest art party in Birmingham featuring a concert by Grammy-winning artist Eric Bellinger. Since 2005, Art On The Rocks has enlivened downtown with the best of Birmingham’s creative community in the BMA for an exciting night of artful entertainment that includes live music, DJs, an interactive mural with Gatson, and more.