Art Review: Devon Troy Strothers at Richard Heller Gallery


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Devin Troy Strother’s solo debut at Richard Heller Gallery is a double-barreled doozy that establishes the 24-year-old artist as a force to be reckoned with. His cut-and-paste pictures of people dancing and dying zero in on life’s high and low points to say a lot about race in the U.S. today.

In the first gallery, 14 collages make up “Please, Don’t Act a Fool in the Club: A Memory of the Sugar Shack.” Most depict dance floors packed with men and women strutting their stuff like there’s no tomorrow. One shows a blood bath, no less harrowing for being a cartoon.


In the second gallery, “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” consists of 13 generally larger works that depict various street scenes. Drug dealers, gangsters and police predominate. But vendors, artists and love-makers steal the show.

A highly original artist, Strothers transforms scraps of paper into whirlpools suffused with all sorts of stories. Think Kara Walker, but less precious. Or Laylah Ali, but messier, more ambiguous. Romare Bearden’s collages from the 1930s come to mind.

Strothers cuts all of his little paper doll figures from ordinary sheets of construction paper. He adds glitter and paint and glues them loosely so that they overlap and extend beyond the edges of his works. Most of the people he depicts are black. Almost all have huge afros. And almost all are smiling.

This simple fact makes Strothers’ works stand out from much contemporary art, particularly pieces made by the African Americans who have made it into the most prestigious museums. Representations of joy and happiness have been effectively off limits since racist minstrel shows.

It’s heartening to see a young artist break the rules by embracing the up-side of life without dumbing anything down.

“Please, Don’t Act a Fool in the Club: A Memory of the Sugar Shack,” Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, (310) 453-9191, through Oct. 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


-- David Pagel