Last year, Meisha Johnson opened a gallery on Broad Street showcasing black artists exclusively.
Her mission to showcase South Carolina's black talent at Neema Gallery continues with this month's featured artist, who creates black-and-white portraits out of 3D layers of shredded paper and other materials. His career spans more than 40 years and two continents.
That artist is Tyrone Geter, an Alabama native who now lives in South Carolina. He formerly taught at Benedict College in Columbia and curated the university art gallery. In between southern states, he spent seven years in Nigeria, a move that he says was a turning point in his artistic career.
When he returned to America in 1987, he had a new perspective on art, and the creative process.
"When I was in Nigeria, when I drew, I literally stayed in the lines," Geter says. "At the end of the drawing, I would purposefully erase any stray lines. Then one day, I was working and I just got sick of doing what I was doing, so I took my hand and wiped it through the drawing."
That did more than just smudge the composition outside of the lines. It was a light bulb that went off. Geter had been focusing on perfecting his technique but realized that he was at a point where he was skilled enough to let go of his conscious efforts and let his subconscious take over.
"If you’ve ever been to a jazz concert, those musicians who are improvising don’t stop to think," Geter says. "Their subconscious draws what it needs to create whatever it’s doing. It naturally draws from the technique that's been crafted over time and practice. If you stop to think, you're in trouble."
At Neema Gallery, he has 14 never-before-seen works on display for an exhibit titled "Speak Easy, Speak Free." Most of them are portraits of black people.
"My use of the black figure is because I want to show we’re all the same," Geter says. "People from all cultures share the same characteristics."
But more than just conveying those similar characteristics, Geter is also creating political messages within individual pieces.
One piece, of a woman with an elephant, references a black woman who was pointed out during Congress' interrogation of Michael Cohen.
"They were saying because he has one black friend, he must not be racist," Geter says.
Another one, titled "Warrior," shows a young girl with a bird, which Geter says represents the current state of women's rights and hope for the flight of freedom.
A third piece, "6 Weeks," is based on the anti-abortion bill that just passed in Geter's home state of Alabama, which will ban abortions for any reason after six weeks. The installation hauntingly depicts the top of a girl's head, with just her eyes peeking over a bush within an old mirror frame. Beneath is a piece of driftwood and a sea of different colored beans with a small broom in the middle.
Those beans represent the various reasons a woman might get an abortion, says Geter.
"They've packed everything in together — rape, incest — and swept it into this big pile," he says. "Then, the little girl at the top, they don't care anything about."
Geter says he normally doesn't deal with many art galleries, but Johnson's mission and outreach really drew him in.
"One thing I like about what she does is trying to elevate the arts," Geter says. "A lot of galleries you see doing the same stuff over and over again, and while she is concerned about making a living, she's also concerned about really high quality."
Geter will deliver an artist talk 3:30-5 p.m. June 7 before the Art Walk that evening. He also will give a talk 3-4:30 p.m. June 8 along with two other South Carolina artists, Ment Nelson and Kolpeace, to local young artists on using art to bring about change in your community.
The exhibit will be on display through the end of June at Neema Gallery, 3 Broad Street. The gallery is open 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.