Traveling Stevie Wonder art exhibit arrives in Atlanta

Music icon celebrated through April 27 at Buckhead hotel
Servers at Tesserae pass in front of a backstage photo of Stevie Wonder during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Servers at Tesserae pass in front of a backstage photo of Stevie Wonder during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Stevie Wonder’s music, spun by Atlanta deejay Salah Ananse, provided a warm sonic backdrop on Friday, Feb. 2, from turntables set up in a lounge area of the Thompson Atlanta - Buckhead hotel’s lobby floor. Selected songs like “Happy Birthday” and “Higher Ground” could be heard through the hotel’s sound system on different floors, as far up as the hotel’s rooftop lounge Tesserae.

The crowd was gathered for a first look at “Art Melanated Presents Our Celebration of Stevie Wonder,” a traveling exhibit dedicated to Wonder, and his impact on music and culture.

Stacey Chavis views takes in a painting during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Guests enjoyed cocktails and conversations while observing a variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs and collected artifacts surrounding them on walls, shelves and tables, almost all related to the musical icon. The crowd included a mixture of Atlanta creatives, including entertainment executive Chris Hicks, singer/songwriter Terrence “Scar” Smith and visual artist Charlton Palmer, a.k.a. CP the Artist.

“This show has combined the embodiment and feel of Stevie Wonder,” Palmer said during the opening event. “Some of the best Black artists are in here. I love it. This is a gift to Atlanta from Art Melanated. This is what Atlanta needs.”

People mingle during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Art Melanated, a community of art enthusiasts including artists, collectors and gallery owners, is behind the legendary Motown act’s traveling exhibit. The display arrives in Atlanta following a residency ending Dec. 31 at the Andaz West Hollywood hotel in Los Angeles.

Artists whose works are featured in the exhibit include Atlanta-based Kevin A. Williams, also known by the art moniker “WAK.” Williams, along with fellow artists Celso González, Kipkemoi, Murjoni Merriweather, Patrick Henry Johnson, Peyton, the Artist, and Art Melanated artists/founders Sol Aponte and Jennia Fredrique-Aponte, held an artists’ talk on Saturday, February 3, where they spoke about their inspirations for their contributions.

One of Williams’ pieces, titled “Young Money,” features Wonder in a custom royal blue suit, leaning against the front of a shiny gray Rolls-Royce, wearing black sunglasses, sporting a short haircut and flashing a beaming smile. Williams said his goal was to offer the exhibit the “most interesting and shallow thing I can paint,” which ended up being a portrait of the artist as a young man in the 1960s, as he was realizing major success but prior to the next decade, considered his more activism-driven era.

LaTonya Holmes records Relentless Aaron dance during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

“I wanted to show ten years prior to the seventies,” Williams said about the image he portrayed, which was inspired from a photograph of he found from 1967. “Something triggered in ten years that said, ‘I’m not going to entertain you. Now I’m getting ready to build.’ I wanted to show that innocence and joy, and happiness, and the contrast that 10 years could make, not only in his life, but in America.”

The artists also shared that they listened to Wonder’s music while painting. Fredrique Aponte said she listened to “The Secret Life of Plants” while creating her piece, titled “Higher Ground,” which shows an afroed Wonder with a gold-foiled halo. Peyton, the Artist, said she let the classic song “Visions” play repeatedly.

People mingle during Art Melanated’s Stevie Wonder exhibit opening at Thompson Atlanta in Buckhead on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

The public is invited to view the exhibit for free until April 27.

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