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New Exhibition at Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries Showcases Self-Taught Artists

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

What is an "ALLiGATER HELLHOUND"?

You may have seen the bright yellow posters bearing an intimidating green creature with this name around campus recently.

It's the creation of artist W.D. Harden, made in 1998 using paint on linoleum. It's also the title of an exhibition at the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries on Monarch Way through Dec. 17.

"The 'ALLiGATER HELLHOUND' was sort of a continuation of my signature paintings of the hellhound, which was inspired by the great Delta bluesman Robert Johnson and his song 'Hellhound on My Trail,'" Harden said.

He said he was honored it was part of the galleries' collection.

The show highlights self-taught artists whose work was the heart of Baron and Ellin Gordon's collection. The Williamsburg couple donated hundreds of pieces to the gallery that bears their names.

The current exhibition comprises 50 works that have not been on display in recent years and represent just a few of the hundreds of pieces in the permanent collection, said Cullen Strawn, executive director for the arts at ODU and director of the Gordon Galleries.

"The Gordons were very passionate about self-taught art and got to know the artists whose work they collected personally," Strawn said.

Getting to know the artists, especially those who are contemporary self-taught artists, was part of the appeal of collecting, the Gordons said in an interview in 2011.

"We just became enthused about the number of things we'd seen .... I can talk to some of these artists and sit down and shoot the breeze with them for an hour, two hours, see what they think, and I think, and then I enjoy their paintings more," said Baron Gordon, who died in 2017. "I can't talk to Picasso, I can't talk to Van Gogh, and so on."

The exhibition includes an audio component, with folk and traditional music playing in the gallery to represent the cultures of the places where pieces in the show were created. Some pieces come from Virginia or other Southern locales, and others from farther away, including Belize.

"Social inequality and civil rights, spirituality, celebration and poverty, love and death, and longing and protest all are part of the everyday lives expressed here through sight and sound," Strawn said.

After the show closes in December, some of the pieces may reappear as part of an ongoing campus public art initiative to install pieces in publicly accessible spaces.

"ALLiGATER HELLHOUND" is on display through Dec. 17 in the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries at 4509 Monarch Way in Norfolk. For information about exhibitions, events and hours, visit the galleries' exhibitions page.

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