A largely self-taught artist, Lovell paints warm, lovingly rendered portraits of friends and families hanging out, making art, posing, beaming.
His subjects have nuanced, textured faces, achieved via the richly layered impasto painting style. Set against Lovell’s less dimensional backgrounds, the faces of the people he renders gain even greater depth and poignance. The layers of oil paint bring a dynamism to the faces as if they have just stopped to look out at us for a moment, before continuing on their way.
His snapshot-style moments are inspired by the pleasure he used to take flipping through his grandmother’s photo albums. That reflection on time, memory and love was one part of his artistic journey.
Lovell always loved to draw. As a kid he spent his money on how-to-draw books. He sold his first painting when he was in fourth grade for $25. At 16 he was uprooted from the familiar surroundings of his home in Chicago, and plunked in Lithonia, where his mother thought her family would be safer.
“It was hard at first.”
In Lithonia, he was an hour and a half by public transportation from downtown Atlanta.
“And the train stop used to be two blocks down the street from our apartment in Chicago.”
He took advanced placement art classes at Lithonia High School. “But as I graduated high school, being an artist seemed like this sort of weird fairy tale to me.”
So he decided to pursue something more practical and enrolled in a graphic design program at the University of West Georgia until he realized “I don’t like sitting at computers all day.”
He left school, and taught himself to paint, discovering his signature use of impasto while watching a YouTube video. Lately, he’s been watching YouTube to learn how to talk about his work.
“I am super nervous when it comes to interviews. I am still finding my voice,” he says. Watching contemporary artists talk has taught him both the need and the difficulty of conveying the complexities of his own work.
“I realized art world talk is like putting supernatural things into words.” For Lovell painting is “my spiritual practice.”
“A lot of my work is from lived experiences, so the more that I do things, go out to places, meet new people and stuff, the more it informs my work,” says Lovell. That pleasurable, collaborative working process was decimated once COVID-19 hit. “I didn’t paint for four months,” he says. “I was in a pretty bad place. I had to talk myself into going back into painting.”
Doom scrolling through the news every day, not seeing friends, he tortured himself about what he should be doing with his life.
“How does what I do add value to the world or bring value to people’s lives?” he would ask himself. “I had to do some inward growing and reflection,” he says. And ultimately, he realized “this is my life’s work.”
“Being able to be around people and being able to highlight their person,” was his purpose.
“To say that this moment is a grand moment,” he says of paintings that enunciate the quotidian pleasures of Black existence.
But Lovell has often felt stymied by some viewers’ impulse when they look at images of Black people done by a Black artist to read politics or race or agenda into his work.
“Why can’t I paint this picture of my friend at the park and it just lives as that?” he asks.
“This thing that I do does bring me joy. And I am also reflecting joy in the work.”
“I always feel like when people are trying to understand my work they’re looking for something other than joy. And that’s a weird problem.”
“Jurell Cayetano, Gerald Lovell, Dianna Settles”
Through April 17. Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. by appointment with timed ticket. Free. Mint Gallery, 680 Murphy Ave., SW, Unit 2095, Atlanta. 404-680-8728, mintatl.org.