Marietta exhibit insipired by Zora Neale Hurston

Ann Tanksley's 'Images of Zora' opens Friday at Avisca Fine Art Gallery

Inspired by the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Tanksley created the 39 monoprints and monotypes in the exhibit “Images of Zora,” opening Friday at Marietta’s Avisca Fine Art Gallery in a few short years of fecund artmaking starting in 1988.

Yet two decades later, the artist claims that Hurston, the folklorist and author who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, remains a wellspring of inspiration.

“It stays with me, it never goes away,” Tanksley said this week from her home in Great Neck, N.Y. “Zora is always with me, saying you can do it.”

Tanksley became immersed in Hurston’s writing quite by chance, after she opened a damaged box of books her daughter had shipped home following college graduation. On top was Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which Tanksley found impossible to put down.

“It was like an epiphany,” recalled Tanksley, 75, who was then taking a class in monoprinting, a process in which an edition of a single print can be produced by laying ink down on a smooth surface such as plexiglass and then transferring an impression onto paper. “It was if something was sent to speak to me, and immediately I said I had to do a visual interpretation.”

By coincidence, Tanksley soon discovered that a friend, psychoanalyst Hugh Butts, planned to write an analysis of Hurston through her writings. Butts asked the artist to create art to accompany the study. It was never published, but Tanksley went on to produce 260 pieces.

Already well-regarded and well-collected when she began the series, Tanksley said delving into Hurston’s writing caused her to pursue her own psychoanalysis, which “made me feel I could do more than I could ever do.”

Works from that suite were shown in New York City, Tanksley’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Eatonville, Fla. (where Hurston grew up), and other stops, before the artist, who thinks of the pieces as a single work, archived it.

When Avisca Fine Art Gallery found out that the National Black Arts Festival fine art fair was canceled this year, the gallery representing artists of African and Caribbean descent decided to stage a special show in its space just off the Marietta Square.

They turned to Tanksley, who suggested showing the Hurston works one final time.

“It speaks to the time we’re in very definitely,” she says. “Her’s are stories that need to be told over and over again.”

The black and white images range from the joyous woman whose arms flung high become branches in “Oh to Be a Pear Tree,” to the moonlit embrace of monumental male and female figures in “In Love,” to the magical realism-inspired “Bob Comes Back,” in which two cats dwarf a man and woman in front of their simple homestead.

Tanksley re-created the latter image in 1991 in a hand-colored transfer drawing. It’s among three large-format hand-colored prints and five oils inspired by Hurston included in the exhibit.

Tanksley has traveled to many countries touched by the slave trade and many nations where Hurston herself studied, including Haiti, where “I could feel her having been there,” she says.

But thinking back, Tanksley feels much earlier connections, including the apple tree in her childhood yard that she climbed to “take refuge.” Hurston had her own Chinaberry tree escape. That too became a print, which Tanksley titled “Out on a Limb.”

EXHIBIT PREVIEW

“Ann Tanksley: Images of Zora”

Opening reception (with artist present), 6-10 p.m. Friday at Avisca Fine Art Gallery, 507 Roswell St., Marietta. Through Aug. 23. Artist talk, 3-5 p.m. Saturday. Gallery hours: noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 770-977-2732, www.aviscafineart.com.