Mixed-media messages at arts district galleries


The work of two very talented and expressive artists of color is currently on display at the dual galleries owned by Val Francis of Oak Bluffs. At the Knowhere Gallery on Dukes County Avenue, you will find a show of the work of mixed-media artist Maria-Lana Queen, while at the Center of Knowhere on Circuit Avenue, artist Charly Palmer is the focus of a solo exhibit.

Queen’s show, titled “Oh Say Can You See Me,” is full of colorful abstract imagery. While the body of work is very aesthetically pleasing, a strong message also underlies each of the pieces. For example, a distorted image of the American flag (the painting that gives the show its title) asks the question, according to the artist, “Are we too far away from what the flag symbolizes, and does it truly represent every citizen?”

Another — a diptych featuring two children — includes a little Black boy wearing a red bowtie and a little Black girl with a red ribbon in her hair. The red adornments represent, in the artist’s words, “that minority children are loved, cared for, and have value and worth.”

Queen’s work is full of symbolism. She repeatedly uses images such as ladders, cages, and crosses to represent, respectively, a way out from difficulties, the feeling of powerlessness, and “a spiritual power greater than all humans.”

On the Knowhere website, Queen’s work is described as “brutally frank in her passionate commentary on a subject close to her heart — our nation’s history of racial inequities in the care, treatment, education, and healthcare of children of color.”

The artist adds, “Persons born of color in places where systematic social and economic caste systems ascribe more value and worth to one race or color over another will undoubtedly confront impediments to reaching their fullest potential.”

On his website, Charly Palmer is referred to as a Griot (a traveling storyteller who continues the tradition of maintaining oral history in West Africa). His “About” page includes the following description: “Literally, Palmer’s paintbrush is as a Griot. In every painting, he bears witness of African ancestry and contemporary experiences — rhythmic, visual stories that shift what each viewer believes to see — should one dare to look deeply.”

For Palmer’s series, titled “Remembering You,” which hangs at the Center of Knowhere, he writes, “This body of work is the beginning of remembering what it was that I came here (earth) for. I feel rejuvenated, rebooted, re-energized, replenished and ‘I Am Remembering You.’ Bold, bright, simple in your complexity and loving. You are the what that gets me up every morning.”

Throughout the work on display, we see Black faces and figures, often represented with mystical, dreamlike touches — people variously floating through the air, crowned with bunches of flowers, or with a symbolic bluejay perched on a shoulder. Many images feature Vineyard scenes. These include two little girls on State Beach, kids jumping off the second bridge, and the Vineyard Polar Bears conducting their morning ritual in the calm waters at Inkwell Beach.

Palmer, who currently resides in Atlanta, where he has a studio, has been painting for more than three decades. Starting out as an illustrator and graphic designer, Palmer has since won nationwide acclaim for his fine art. In 2021 he was selected as the Fine Art + Fashion Visual Artist Award recipient, presented by Neiman Marcus. In 2020 his album cover for John Legend’s “Bigger Love” won a Grammy for Best R&B album cover. That same year Palmer’s painting “In Her Eyes” graced the cover of Time magazine for the “America Must Change” issue.

The Vineyard is fortunate to have a chance to witness a show of work by this acclaimed artist, whose bio includes these lines: “Follow the instructions of the ancestors and you will see greatness happen; there’s intrinsic beauty and strength of Blackness in each body of work. Much of Palmer’s messaging is in the eyes of his people, as if conversing with one another. Conversing with you. From loose sketches and tight lines to blocks of color to nuances of mixed media, his art manifests in visual expressions to the questions, ‘What came before? What truth must be told?’”