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Messages from Home: The Art of Leo Twiggs

Messages from Home: The Art of Leo Twiggs on view at the Morris Museum of Art from

December 5, 2020 - March 14, 2021


Leo Twiggs, Dreamers, 2018. Batik. © Leo Twiggs. Private Collection


According to Leo Twiggs, “Art is the repository of human experience.” For over forty years, Dr. Twiggs’ experiences—as an African American man born in the segregated South, as the first black graduate of the University of Georgia’s art education doctoral program, as a father, teacher, and artist—have infused his paintings. His life story includes personal and aesthetic confrontations with symbols of hate, particularly the Confederate flag.

A native of St. Stephen, South Carolina, Leo Franklin Twiggs is a summa cum laude graduate of Claflin University (1956), where he now holds the position of Distinguished Artist in Residence. With no state-sponsored graduate program available to black South Carolinians at mid-century, Twiggs received his master’s degree from New York University (1964), where he studied under acclaimed artist Hale Woodruff. In 1970, Leo Twiggs became the first African American to earn a doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia.

In 1964, Twiggs returned to Orangeburg to take up a teaching position at South Carolina State University, where he started the art department and was instrumental in opening and running the I. P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium on campus. At this time, he began to experiment with the ancient process of batik: a traditional African method for decorating fabric using dye and wax. Twiggs uses batik as a way to create varying colors and textures that he could not get with conventional painting. Using the dye as paint (instead of the customary method of dipping the fabric in the dye), affords Twiggs a certain technical liberty which he likens to jazz in its embrace of "improvisation and contemplation, important elements in my creative efforts.” Many of Twiggs' paintings contain ominous iconography, including targets, railroad crossings, shadowy figures, and the Confederate flag. Twiggs approaches the controversial banner, presented as a tattered relic of the past, as representative of a dark chapter and vital lesson in Southern history. The exercise of reclaiming and defusing such malevolent icons, Twiggs believes, can serve as a portal for “crossing over.”

Dr. Twiggs has had over seventy one-man shows and his work has received international recognition, with exhibitions held at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the American Crafts Museum, and in US Embassies in Rome, Dakar, and Togoland, among others. His work has been widely published in art textbooks and featured in several television documentaries. The artist was twice recognized with the South Carolina Governor's Award for the Arts in the categories of visual artist and lifetime achievement, and also received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, in 2017. In the autumn of 2018, Twiggs received the Gibbes Museum’s prestigious 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, in recognition for his work’s contribution to “a new understanding of the American South.” In 2019, Dr. Twiggs was presented with the Georgia Museum of Art’s Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, which honors living African American artists with a connection to that state.


Make your own Batik Art!

Supplies:

Cotton Fabric

Glue

Paint or dye

Paint brush


Instructions

  1. Draw your design on the fabric (optional* you can free hand)

  2. Outline drawing with glue

  3. Use paint or dye to color design

  4. (Optional*) When the paint is dry soak fabric to wash away glue and create outlines.




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