Friday, October 5, marks the opening of “Henry Bermudez. . . in Black and White” at Delaware College of Art and Design's Toni & Stuart B. Young Gallery. The mission of this DCAD gallery is to inspire students with quality examples by professional artists, but it is a boon for all of Wilmington. The current exhibition, a mostly monochromatic body of work of dimensional cut paper, patterned drawings, and painted cardboard cut-outs takes DCAD students back to the basic foundation of drawing. “I think in black and white and afterward I add any color that is available.” Bermudez considers drawing his primary art form, and stepping into the gallery, you feel as though you are trespassing on the sketchbook of his mind. Three-dimensional dragons breathe curly smoke. Tropical plants spiral out from the walls. Jungle cats lie in wait.
Speaking by phone, Bermudez explained that the images come to him in the hazy hours between sleep and wakefulness—flashes of his life experiences, fifty years of those as an artist. He graduated from art school in his native Venezuela at the age of twenty and took a job teaching art in a remote jungle town populated by the descendants of escaped African slaves. Who was teaching whom? He absorbed the town’s mythology and allowed the geography, flora, and fauna to imprint upon him. It gave him quite the visual vocabulary. Combining this experience with his identity as a Latino in a Catholic Country and his contemporary arts education, Bermudez created a style of his own, becoming one of the top artists in the country and exhibiting around the world. At one point, he had a sizable studio where he executed paintings 10’ X 20’ and larger.
Henry Bermudez is travelling lighter these days. Displaced from his native Venezuela after Chavez came to power, he had to leave behind his studio, not to mention the body of work itself. He came to Philadelphia fourteen years ago with nothing but his renown as an artist. He adjusted to smaller quarters by changing the way he makes and displays art. Coming to hang his show in Wilmington, he carried most of his work in a 42”x 6” roll. His new pieces are both portable and modifiable. Bermudez told me that he displayed some of the same work previously in his 2016 show in Lima, Peru, but you wouldn’t know it was the same art. He shapes his pieces to fit each venue. The result is that his art looks like it is growing out of the space it inhabits. Some of his sculptural pieces, which he cuts and shapes out black paper, remind me of jack-o’-lanterns or intricate shadow puppets of Southeast Asia—but with more dimension and heft. Larger than life, these dark, mythological creatures shepherd the viewer into the interior of the exhibit where Bermudez’s quieter and smaller drawings whisper, pulling you close into hypnotizing pattern. In total, Black and White is as immersive as any of October’s haunted houses. I realize this is me injecting my own mythology into the experience. But, really, that is what good art does; it brings us, each with our own unique set of experiences and cultural references, into a greater conversation. Come experience for yourself.
DCAD is now working with Bermudez to schedule an artist talk and workshop with the artist. Check their site for news of these and other upcoming events.
Toni & Stuart B. Young Gallery is located at 600 N. Market Street, Wilmington. Henry Bermudez. . . In Black and White will continue through Oct. 25. Gallery hours from Oct. 6 to 25 will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.