Pinkney Herbert ’77 spends his time living and working between Memphis, TN, and Long Island City, Queens. He has taught painting and drawing at Rhodes College and the University of Memphis and is the founder and director of the long-running Memphis alternative space, Marshall Arts Gallery. Pinkney currently has two exhibitions on view in Memphis, "Distilled: The Narrative Transformed" at Crosstown Arts on view until July 4th and "Arcadia" at the David Lusk Gallery, through June 23rd.
On Wednesday, June 13, 2018, 6-7pm, he gave a gallery talk at Crosstown Arts, 1350 Concourse Ave, Suite 280. Pinkney was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and talk with Rhodes College about his time in the art department and what he has been up to the last 40 years. This is part of that exchange.
Alumni Relations: How did you decide to attend Rhodes College and how was your time as an art student here?
Pinkney Herbert: I visited Rhodes in 1973 with the idea of majoring in art. In high school, I am from North Carolina, I had gotten into the Delta Blues, so Memphis was a big draw. Then seeing and being on the Rhodes campus clinched it.
I really enjoyed Rhodes’ liberal arts curriculum. I took as many studio art classes as possible. Lon Anthony was such an inspiring sculpture teacher and a great role model. It was fun getting dirty in his classes, pouring bronze, beating metal, hacking at wood, modeling wax, plaster, or clay into some sort of crazy 3D object. I learned a lot from Peter Bowman too. He was my painting and drawing teacher. His teaching style was primarily by example, and he gave me permission to be expressive and to take chances in the studio. I also enjoyed taking extra art classes at the Memphis College of Art through the Rhodes/MCA consortium. I learned how to see in new ways in Murray Riss’s photography classes and he was great at teaching darkroom techniques and the history of photography.
I would also have to say my love of art history started with all the tough art history classes I took at Rhodes. A really memorable class was Architecture History taught by Jim Williamson, a fine architect himself.
AR: The exhibition currently on view at Crosstown Arts is a 35-year retrospective. Talk about the process of selecting the work. Was it difficult to narrow down what was included?
PH: My 35-year survey show at Crosstown Arts began three years ago with Sam Yates, Director of the Ewing Gallery of Art at UT Knoxville. Sam had followed my work since I was a visiting artist at UT in 1992. Sam, along with co-curator T. Michael Martin, selected a broad overview of my paintings and drawings, over 100 works, that traveled from Knoxville to Murray State University in Kentucky and then on to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Every venue was a different iteration of the show.
David Lusk, another Rhodes alum, 1987, and owner of David Lusk Gallery, has represented me for more than 20 years. He has a keen eye and is great at mounting shows, so he was the perfect person to curate and lay out the Crosstown exhibition. David encouraged me to respond to the atrium and big walls outside the galleries by displaying my large drawings from the 90s. I like having an objective eye select my work for exhibitions. There is never an argument from me about which pieces to include or exclude.
AR: The show at David Lusk Gallery is all new work and is called “Arcadia.” Where did this title come from and how did it influence the work in the show?
PH: Most of the paintings and drawings in that show were made in my studio near the East River in Long Island City, Queens. I titled the show “Arcadia” because I have this romantic notion that the city can be a creative urban oasis. At least for me it is.
AR: You spend a great deal of time living and working in NYC. How is it different living and working there as opposed to Memphis?
PH: I joke that my wife Janice and I live a bi-coastal life, the coasts being the banks of the Mississippi and East Rivers. I think a lot of the energy in my recent work is powered by the velocity I feel living and working in New York. In both Memphis and New York, I get charged up going to museums and galleries and exchanging studio visits with other artists. Also, the music of both places effects my work -- most often it's the jazz of New York fusing with the soul of Memphis music while I paint.
AR: Besides the upcoming art talk at Crosstown, what else do you have going on this summer?
PH: Currently, I'm in New York for a group show at Real Estate Gallery that includes paintings influenced by the East River skyline. I'll be back in Memphis for the gallery talk at Crosstown Arts on June 13th, then we head to Atlanta for a solo show at Sandler Hudson Gallery opening on June 15th. In July, I'll be teaching a two-week painting class at the Penland School in North Carolina, then I head to the MacDowell Colony in the fall for a five-week residency. It's a busy but gratifying time for us.
Since I just turned 64, I can't help but hear the line from the Beatles song “will you still need me, will you still feed me when I am 64?” And sure enough the art career that started in Clough Hall back in 1973 has nourished me for a lifetime.
Images courtesy of Crosstown Arts and David Lusk Gallery.