‘Resonance’ Exhibit at Red Arrow Gallery Showcases Expanded Artistic Practice from Khari Turner ’21

Mădălina Telea Borteș
September 21, 2023

For Visual Arts alumnus Khari Turner ’21, water has served as a cornerstone of his practice and an important element of his paintings which explore Black joy, beauty, and resilience. The water Turner uses is sourced from the Senegalese coast and Pacific Ocean, the Milwaukee river, Lake Michigan, the NY Harbor and Virginia coast—locations that bear personal and transhistorical significance. 

It would be fair to say that Turner is primarily concerned with water as a reserve of lived history. Yet, such a claim would be incomplete. Turner’s concern is prismatic and keenly capacious, extending to include a careful eye for how history is narrativized in images, how materials may carry history, and what art itself, like water, may hold. 

In Resonance, a two-person show at Red Arrow Gallery in Tennessee, Turner has expanded his artistic practice to include new materials, shapes, and techniques. Alongside the exquisitely rendered fragments of poised figures who have always appeared in his paintings, one now also sees stained glass, sand, coral, and shells, all of which have been arranged on oval, circular, and arched slabs of concrete poignantly suggestive of stained glass church windows.  

“How do I talk about history without also making gruesome imagery if I want to address something as painful as slavery?” Turner asks in a recent studio visit with the internationally renowned art auctioneer, Christie’s. The thirteen works in Resonance take a bold step towards turning that question inside out and posing it to the viewer through imagery that is equally bewitching and affecting, stunning and consciously un-pristine. 

In Beginning And End (84” x 48,” acrylic, oil, ink, charcoal, sand, shell, water from oceans, lakes and rivers with personal and historical connections to Black history, 2023), for instance, one encounters the weathered remnants of two figures surrounded by meticulously cut cobalt blue, fire red, lime and mauve pieces of stained glass. Their faces, which Turner has left, in large part, effaced, are upturned towards the sky and gaze towards the far horizon. As in Turner’s previous works, the figures are presented in self-assured and joyful postures—necks are long, arms are languid, hands are set in sensual or sacred gestures— and rendered in paint, ink, and charcoal which has interacted with the salt from ocean water, leaving marks that Turner stresses innately carry the harrowingly charged threads of history. 

To stand before Beginning and End, then, is to encounter a work of art that is self-aware of its history, materiality, and unabashed beauty. The effect is striking and eliminates the possibility of reducing a narrative, and a people’s history, to any one thing. Regardless of how often one turns their gaze upon these figures who simultaneously emerge from the suggested window and are held within its radiant frame, one cannot easily lay claim to them, the craft involved in these works that hold them, or the narrative they advance: onwards, onwards with self-awareness and real (not pure) beauty. 

Khari Turner earned his MFA at Columbia University in 2021 following his BFA from Austin Peay University in 2019. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Turner is now based in Brooklyn, NY. Recent exhibitions include a solo exhibition with Ross-Sutton London (2023), a two person exhibition at Philadelphia Magic Gardens (2022), a solo exhibition in Stockholm, Sweden (2022) with CFHILL Gallery, and a solo exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art Museum (2022). He has participated in benefit auctions such as "Impact: Black AIDS Institute" Artsy Auction and "House of Crowns" through Phillips and Superposition Gallery. Turner has completed residences with AIRIE Residency (FL), Iris Project Residency (CA) and Chautauqua Residency (NY). Khari is included in many esteemed private and public collections across the world. This is his second exhibition with Red Arrow in Nashville, TN.