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Past, Present, & Future Moves: Alexandra Antoine, Paul Branton, and Heather Polk in Conversation

February 26, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Alexandra Antoine, Paul Branton, and Heather Polk work through collage and mixed media practices in reference to social and political commentaries, the intimacies of Black life, and cultural identity.

As concepts of the past, present, and future overlap within their practice, they will discuss their individual concerns as artists, what pushes their work forward, and how art encourages us to look back to our past, while looking ahead.

Heather Polk is a sales and marketing professional with an active art practice that fills her nights and weekends. She resides in Chicago where she relocated from Atlanta almost 10 years ago.

She is working toward establishing a small art studio that will deliver programming for sufferers of chronic disease so that they, and their caretakers, may utilize the empowerment of artistic creativity as a vital part of their disease management. Her art practice is centered around collage and abstract painting.


Alexandra Antoine is an interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago, IL. Her work examines traditional artistic practices throughout the African Diaspora with a focus on healing traditions, identity and culture through the use of collage, portraiture, and most recently, farming. She uses the portrait as a tool to re/present individuals of the African diaspora while exploring her relationship to them within the larger narrative of her Haitian identity.

She holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts and Arts Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been exhibited at Rootwork Gallery, Hyde Park Art Center, Roman Susan Gallery, Chicago Art Department and Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, IL and is part of the Arts in Embassies program in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


Paul Branton was born in 1973 in Chicago. He was influenced at an early age by the sights & sounds of the South Side’s urban environment. Writing short stories & putting on plays with his sister quickly became a passion and a means of expressing himself. It was this passion that guided his education, which ultimately guided his career.

Choosing visual art as his main focus, he entered Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, majoring in Commercial Art with a strong emphasis in painting. It was at Millikin where he also discovered a love for poetry, a strong desire for painting, eventually putting on a one-man art exhibit displaying his works. During these same years, he also helped his college buddy Skee Skinner with several student film projects, opening up another doorway from which to express himself. Not only taking on writing & production credits, Paul spent much of his time on both sides of the camera playing supporting and lead roles.

He combined the two art forms by creating a series of paintings for the feature film Pieces of a Dream, in which he also portrayed a main character. Also merging visual art and poetry, Paul put together the upcoming coffee table book To Dream In Colour.

The art of Paul Branton is/has been exhibited throughout Illinois, including Millikin University, South Side Community Art Center, Gallery Guichard, University of Illinois at Chicago, Gallery D’Estee, Phoenix Gallery, NYCH Gallery, Chicago Truborn, Legendary Gallery, Gallery na 19, Art Basel Miami and Hyde Park Art Center. Paul served as a Juror for the 50th anniversary of Black Creativity (Museum of Science and Industry / Chicago) in 2020. His art hangs in the homes of private owners from New York to Los Angeles



February 26, 2021
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Event Category:


Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.