From childhood Charles Humes, Jr. wanted to be an artist.
“I thought this was going to be my career. I would become famous, I would sell my work, and that was all I would do; that was all I wanted to do,” says the Miami native. “But then reality set in.”
There were bills to pay, a family to feed. So Humes shared that passion as an art teacher with Miami-Dade County Public Schools for more than 30 years. Now the artist can enjoy his first solo exhibition in decades, which runs until February 19 at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center’s Amadlozi Gallery.
Matters of the Inner City features work in a variety of media and explores “the psyche and state of the black experience in Miami and its inner cities,” according to his artist statement.
After retiring, Humes, like many others, has had time and a lot on his mind in 2020 as he navigates the COVID-19 lockdown and unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
“I was like, ‘Well, you know, what’s here in Liberty City? As a visual artist, what can I do to make people aware of the situation and struggles Black people of color are dealing with?’”
The result is stunning pieces that use a technique Humes calls mosaic collage, incorporating carefully trimmed scraps of paper from printed material. Humes glues the scraps to create depth and shadow. They also make statements when you read the fine print.
Full-size photographs of these works cannot convey their complexity.
While the exhibition is a collection of beautiful works of art, some of the pieces have fairly humble beginnings.
“I guess a lot of the work could be considered real found art,” says Humes, recounting how he “searched” and looked for discarded materials to use.
Once he found a pile of rolled-up canvases behind a furniture store: “It was my lucky day, I said, ‘Bonanza!'”
The stuff was soaked and dirty, he said, but you’d never know that by seeing it decorated and displayed the way it is now.
Other works on display, especially drawings, are simpler. At this point in his career, Humes says, he is less concerned with producing beautiful work and more concerned with conveying something.
“I’ve been criticized for it because sometimes it doesn’t seem like a job is finished, it’s a bit hard or uneven, but that’s just the way it is,” he says.
Matters of the Inner City was produced with support from Oolite Arts; Humes won one of his Creator Awards in 2020. He spoke to a standing audience of more than 50 at a reception at the gallery on January 22.
During Miami Art Week 2021, the Amadlozi Gallery hosted “Le Art Noir, Diversity in Color” in collaboration with former Miami Dolphins player Louis Oliver. The next exhibition of mixed media folk art is expected to open in March.
Now back to his life’s work full-time, Humes is looking forward to a show in Miami Beach later this year. And he has an idea for a series of pieces inspired by Paul Cadmus’ series The Seven Deadly Sins.
“But it can take on a whole different meaning than just greed and avarice and all those things,” he says. “I’m going to relate it to what’s going on here in Miami.”
– Tracy Fields, ArtburstMiami.com
“Downtown affairs.” On view at the Amadlozi Gallery at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22nd Ave., Miami through Saturday, February 19; 305-638-6771; achcacmiami.org. Free entry.