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Jerry Gant 1961-2018

By Emma Wilcox for Gallery Aferro, Newark

originally published: 11/27/2018

Jerry Gant 1961-2018Jerry,

There is no bio that will seem complete for you. Where would it be listed, amongst your numerous and diverse accomplishments, that you talked to people, always seemed to find time for the younger artists, to talk to them and look at their sketchbooks? Your use of language as a material, testing limits, associations, and possibilities. Your immense, roving interest in artists and cultural history of all kinds. Your investigations of so many materials and techniques: wood, metal, wire, salvage, denim, cotton, vinyl, glass, inks, pigment, aerosol, shadow; and your experimental, sometimes ephemeral mark making with snow, leaves, could find a face in anything. And give it a soul. Your involvement in everything. The way encountering your work is magical, and sustaining. Your underconversations, depth, empathy, and humor. Your generosity, curiosity, idiosyncrasy, tenacity, and honesty.

You are loved.

Jerry Gant was one of Newark’s most recognizable artistic forces, an artist, muralist, griot, and performance poet. As a multi-disciplined visual fine artist, arts educator, activist and self-driven historian, Gant sought  to create work which reflects the human spirit of the community’s people, while challenging conventional thinking. A native of Newark, New Jersey, he was a legendary fixture on the arts and culture scene for more than 25 years.

Gant’s long list of accomplishments span the literary, performing and visual arts, boasting numerous solo projects and group exhibitions including Longwood Art Gallery (Bronx, NY), Danny Simmons Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn, NY), New York State Museum (Albany, NY), and Oulaie Art (Orange, NJ), amongst many others, as well as outstanding critical reviews, including two instances where New York Times art critics, visiting exhibits at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art (Newark, NJ) indicated he had stolen the show! Grant was interviewed for countless documentaries, the subject of critical essays by Dr. Nell Painter (Paul Robeson Galleries), and Lisa Bradley (Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate and Gallery Aferro), with the latter accompanying an ambitious, hybridized Newark project at Gallery Aferro, Unusual Suspects, which included public art, performances, workshops, panel, and invitational photographs of 100 men of color, modeled on Art Caine’s Great Day in Harlem. He is the subject of a feature length documentary, The Gantalist by DuBois Ashong, and is featured in Stencil Pirates by Softskull Press and Bulletproof Ambition | The Art and Courage of Jerry Gant 2004-2009, a limited edition e-book by Linda Street.

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Gant got his start as a 1980’s street “graf ” (graffiti) artist in New York City and Newark. His powerful street murals can be seen in major urban centers across the nation and worldwide: New York City, Boston, London, but most of all, in his hometown city. In the early 1990s, Gant joined the New York City spoken word-open mic circuit, and often performed at Newark’s Café Genesis as well as the African Globe Theatre. He studied and taught widely throughout the tristate area; a mentor and youth coordinator and an individual on a lifelong program of self education. He cultivated projects ‘outside the cube’ to heighten the exposure of a fine art aesthetic in urban communities.  Working with librarian Jared Ash, he co-organized a project for the Newark Library Special Collections focusing on pochoir stencil art. His work is in numerous private and public collections.

Jerry Gant 1961-2018

Before there was a formal mural arts program in Newark, he was developing a repertoire of street art that can be viewed in every ward in the city.  In the past decade he was commissioned to create permanent public artworks by Verizon, NJ Transit, the Newark Housing Authority, and the Trust for Public Land, with the latter featuring 13 sculptures installed at Nat Turner Park, the largest city-owned park in Newark. As the first Gallery Aferro Artist-in-Residence, he later credited his 2006-2007 residency experience as leading to this commission. His studio at 31 Central Ave, Newark’s longest-running artist building until the recent sale of the building for development, was a well-known cultural space, with his artistic presence extending to the four corners of the intersection of Central and Halsey streets.

Jerry Gant 1961-2018

In a city filled with memorial statues and monuments dating back to the 1800s, Jerry Gant was proud to be the only contemporary artist with multiple public sculpture works installed throughout his beloved hometown. Most recently he was one of 14 national artists selected by Aljira’s Victor Davson and RUSH Arts Danny Simmons  to create public art for the Fairmont Art Wall, designed by architect David Adjaye. Siddhartha Mitter, reviewing the project, dubbed him a “Newark savant,” a distinguished sage of culture.

Jerry Gant 1961-2018

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