The Poloroid photo Gene Renzi took at The Plastic Club is emblematic of the spirit of the creative arts scene in Philly. The photograph was shot at the Photographic Society of Philadelphia holiday party and flea market, the society meets in the historic art space monthly, photographers were swapping tales and hard to find film. The artwork on the walls in the Polaroid is the Portraits at Plastic exhibition, a juried multi media art show, which was on exhibit throughout December. The collection of portraits was in every medium imaginable, arranged by the exhibitions committee in delightfully subtle tableaus of themes and styles. The atmosphere of being watched created a kind of performance between the art, artist and viewer. The interactive vibe was especially effective when the gallery was crowded with people, with the walls covered in artistic variations on personages, the combination created an energy that amped up the event with extra liveness.
The awards reception for Portraits at Plastic and the Robert “Bob” Jefferson memorial exhibition in the Bob Jackson Gallery held Sunday, December 7th is one of my fondest memories of an art show this year. After the awards ceremony Phil Sumpter, a life long friend of the late Bob Jefferson, talked for a while about the art and the life of the artist being honored with the exhibit in the lower level gallery. Phil Sumpter’s monolog was one of the moments when I had a hopeful feeling that someday a friend will do for me what Phil was doing for Bob. Sumpter talked for almost 30 minutes about the artistic arc of the friends lives from making their own comic books in the 1940’s to going to war in the 1950’s. Each went into a different branch of service but remained friends for life. Their lives parallel each other and entwined over decades with adventures and art. Sumpter described meeting at jazz clubs on rainy nights in Paris where their race was no matter. Growing up black in West Philly didn’t hinder the friends desire to travel the world, be artists, be patriotic, be intellectual and urbane.
There was a moment during the gathering I realized that The Plastic Club was a microcosm of people of all races, genders, preferences and ages that had come together in the spirit of art, love and memory. The room was crowded with all kinds of people and every one seemed happy, their minds filled with the thoughtful images, listening to stories and witnessing moments of glory. The outside world with it’s screaming headlines, racism, fear and tension was quieted as we celebrated accomplishment and creativity. It felt like the world I want to live in for the rest of my life. Art and memory, love and friendship, kindness and good spirits filled the space with the authenticity of Philadelphia freedom. That moment of mindfulness offered me hope for a brave new world of tolerance and acceptance for everyone.
View a photo gallery of Portraits at Plastic on The Plastic Club facebook page.
Written and photographed by DoN Brewer.
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