Marcellous Lovelace’s street savvy works are based on his experience growing up and living in poverty on Chicago’s far South Side. Almost completely self-taught, he refers to himself as an “Afro urban indigenous folk artist.”
More than 30 of Lovelace’s works of all sizes and mediums will be featured in his solo show, “#Biko70 Lumumba Blacker than Space,” now through March 20, at Northwestern’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery. The exhibition is intended to convey the story of people who are overlooked inside a segregated, biased space overcome by poverty, crime, food deserts, joblessness, gang violence and police brutality.
The exhibition and an artist lecture are all free and open to the public from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 3. The opening reception was held Feb. 19.
The gallery is located on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.
Lovelace began to draw and paint between the ages of 6 and 8. By age 11 he had become more knowledgeable about African culture in art. Since 1996, he has created at least one painting or drawing a day.
The segregated, poverty stricken environment in which Lovelace was raised has helped him to develop more than 400 images a year during the past two decades.
Lovelace’s works often incorporate recycled materials that he collects throughout Chicago and Illinois, as a reference to his surroundings. These found items include pieces of paper, magazines, garbage cans, old tires, discarded mattresses and construction materials from demolished buildings.
Lovelace’s favorite subject is the human form. His mixed-media paintings range from neighborhood street scenes that depict groups of Black teenage boys — some brandishing a handgun or clutching a basketball — to muscular action heroes and voluptuous female figures. Some of the street scenes have a backdrop of graffiti-covered buildings or storefronts.
One of the highlights of his Dittmar Gallery exhibition is “We Accept EBT and Guns.” The focal point of the painting is a young Black man in a baseball cap holding a handgun in the palms of his outstretched hands – and offering it to the viewer. He is surrounded by what appears to be three supportive friends. To the right is a sign alerting passersby that whoever is collecting handguns also is accepting EBT (electronic benefit transfers), which have replaced paper food stamps and checks in impoverished Chicago area communities.
Lovelace attended the School of the Art Institute for one year, but left due to financial hardship. “That was a great opportunity for me to learn, and I wish I could go back and teach there one day or do an art show or both,” he said.
He also took painting classes and worked with a mural artist in San Francisco and studied in Memphis, where he was told that “Black Art was not art.”
“I did not let that (comment) distort me as an artist; it made me want to paint more,” Lovelace said. “My environment is so negative it helps me to create beauty from this struggle. I paint because it’s the only thing that feels good after feeling like I’m trapped in a world that has no hope.”
Lovelace’s work has been exhibited locally, nationally and in Italy and Germany.
When he isn’t creating visual art, Lovelace creates hip-hop music, something he has done since age 12. His music has taken him around the world. As a hip-hop artist/creator, he records an average of nine to 14 albums a year, and mainly performs in foreign countries as an independent underground musician.