'Breathing Water to Air,' Debut NY Solo Exhibition by Khari Turner '21, at Ross-Sutton Gallery

Nicole Saldarriaga
August 06, 2021

Breathing Water to Air, Visual Arts alumni Khari Turner's '21 first New York solo exhibition, is available for viewing at Ross-Sutton Gallery until August 7, 2021. 

The paintings in this exhibition call attention to the intertwining of nature and the human body, and is ultimately a show about birth and rebirth. According to the gallery, "As a baby born into this world, the first breath is always the hardest. We start as an idea, to sharing all of our firsts with the world. We are the seed of our families' tree. As with seeds that turn into trees and plants, we are watered and grow. We endure." 

Water is a particularly important element of this show. Turner's paintings, which were all created this spring in his Harlem studio, often feature Black bodies in bodies of water, and Turner incorporated water from all over the world—the coast of Senegal, Lake Michigan, the Pacific Ocean, the lower Manhattan docks, and the Milwaukee River—while mixing his paints.

Overall, Turner used water, oil, ink, watercolor, charcoal, and sand on canvas or board, as well as African Mahogany, Yellow Pine, White Oak, and plexiglass, to create his pieces. "Using material as visual language," says the gallery, "Turner's aim is to captivate and connect the viewer's body to the bodies of water that are used to create the work. Wood as vessel, water as trail, body as paddle, and sand as landing for new beginnings for the artist's journey." 

On his website, Turner cites his work—which features abstract figures with realistic Black noses and lips—as a way to create a deeper connection to his ancestors and his history as a Black American. "Metaphorically, I see Black people as personifications of the magic that is the ocean," he says, "My paintings and drawings combine abstraction with realistic renderings of Black noses and lips to rejuvenate the relationship of my history to my ancestors' history with water. I use water from oceans, lakes, and rivers from places that have either a historical or personal connection to Black history—water that I collect to mix with and pour onto my paintings. My focus is to create a direct relationship to my emotions and understanding of my past, a journey of spiritual connection. I focus on Black history to celebrate my ancestors for surviving the challenges they faced, not to display their pain. I paint to bring out the stories and histories with images holding an elegance and chaos that comes with this existence." 

Khari Turner (born 1991) is an emerging artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a MFA graduate student at Columbia University. Khari's first solo show in New York with Destinee Ross-Sutton at Ross-Sutton Gallery follows his show in San Francisco, California and presences at Christie’s Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) and I-54 exhibitions, also curated by Ross-Sutton. He is in multiple collections including his alma mater Austin Peay State University, where he received his BFA. He has been featured in Artnews, Whitehot magazine, Hyperallergic, Juxtapoz Radio, and Widewalls Magazine to name a few. His early inspiration was his grandfather who worked as a draftsman drawing small images that Turner would recreate at an early age. Growing up in Milwaukee, his landscape consisted of vast nature and dense cityscapes fighting amongst a city well known for its continued segregation. This created a relationship to Black people, water, and his environment that plays a major role in his work now. He currently takes water directly from different bodies of water including the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, his hometown’s Lake Michigan and Milwaukee River water. He incorporates them in the work either mixing the water with paint or pouring directly on the surface of the work. His aims are to eventually start work directly related to water health, environmental conservation, and bringing art to low-income neighborhoods.

'Breathing Water to Air' by Khari Turner
Breathing Water by Khari Turner