The Trenchant Art of James Pate

Kin Killin’ Kin and Attack

By Jud Yalkut

The masterful African American artist James Pate was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but raised in Cincinnati where he earned a scholarship to attend the Art Academy there through a Corbett Award. After attending Central State University and continuing to self-educate himself, he has since been a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence grant and two Montgomery County Individual Artist Fellowships.

Widely know for his idiosyncratic Techno-Cubism style which fuses immaculate realism with spatial abstraction, Pate has, since 2000, worked on a powerful series of large charcoal drawings which decry the horrible problem of violence among black youth and the resultant terrorism. “In the middle of producing the first piece,” he writes, “I decided that as a personal, private protest I would continue to compose a rendering as long as these insidious acts continue.”

The Kin Killin’ Kin series has resulted in twelve outstanding pieces now on view at the EbonNia Gallery in Dayton through February 29, and the entire series has been given integral life by being acquired by the prestigious African American art collection of Arthur Primas. Curator Willis “Bing” Davis began discussing the exhibition of these works in 2008 in which “a master visual artist… had directed his artistic vision to one of the most critical social ills of our time … youth violence.” Mounted at the gallery in the fall of 2011, the suite of monumental charcoal works was visited by numerous church, school and governmental units ranging from youth groups to university art classes, with great demand encouraging its 2012 extension.

Writer Janyce Glasper has commented eloquently on Pate’s work: “Moving poetry, these realistic, fairly large charcoal drawings engage not just the viewer’s eyes, but the actively processing mind. One can almost taste the salty tears from visceral sadness … Touch the lifeless body that no longer has a heartbeat … In the aftermath of senseless bloodshed, there is nothing a viewer can do.”

Pate equates the senseless killers as Black equivalents of Ku Klux Klan terrorism with African American community realization that we “in a strange fruit kind of way, are doing the business of the KKK with our Black-on-Black violence.” The artist stresses this comparison with the depiction of “brothers in pointed hood in the ‘hood’.” In “Your History” the “king of the drug trade” aims a magnified drive-by gun at a traditional Yoruba head from West Africa, and “K, 2 Da K, 2 Da K, II” treats misguided leadership among black males in hooded robes, baring burning crosses and threatening guns. Bullets are masked in small rectangles as they are suspended threateningly in space.

The heroics of black union soldiers are symbolized in “Defenders of the Corner” but perverted by the current tendency to defend the corners of the drug trade. Pate questions: “What happened between the Civil War era and the present day that causes this degree of dysfunction?” Basing “Ku Klux Sphinx” on the legendary shooting off of the nose of Egypt’s Sphinx by Napoleon’s troops, Pate shows the debris falling onto a young girl jumping rope, an instance of “the innocent bystander as victim.” He relates this also to bombardment by debris of the victims of 9/11.

“3K” honors Pate’s favorite DJ, Jam Master J of the group Run DMC, gunned down in his studio and here pictured on the jersey of a masked current DJ, while giant gun hands protrude into the foreground from passing cars with hooded drivers. “Your History II” captures the mutual destruction of competing gunmen against a background drawn from scenes dating back to the civil rights era. “Your History III” plays on the double meaning of noble history and the water soaking of protestors against “the slang phrase that signifies the ending of one’s life.”

Pate further equates the senseless killer with a fractured Sphinx-nosed “Adolf Jackson” with Hitler’s equal determination to terminate the black race as well as the Jews, and also decries the onslaught of music with violent lyrics which encourages the mobster psychology in “K 2 Da K, 2 Da K” with a hooded background character declaiming into a mike while holding a gun to the temple of another.

The large oil painting “Turn of Endearment” projects hope around a multi-faceted character that progresses in rainbow tones away from a life of despair to the embracing of a youth with the definition of Sankofa (“looking back at their rich ancestry in order to receive the guidance to move forward”).

A concurrent series by Pate, which decries violence towards women called Attack, with rich monumental black nudes threatened by military warplanes, is showing at the Works on Paper Gallery of Sinclair Community College through March 7. This series also allows the viewer to appreciate the prodigious feeling and technique of this master artist whose works enhance the lifestyle and consciousness of our community.

The EbonNia Gallery is located at 1135 W. Third Street in the Wright-Dunbar area of Dayton. Gallery hours are 11a.m.-5p.m. or by appointment at (937) 223-2290. The Sinclair Works on Paper Gallery is located on the fourth floor of Building 13 at the corner of Fifth and Perry Streets in Dayton. Gallery hours are 8a.m.-8p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8a.m.-5p.m. Friday and 8a.m.-3p.m. Saturday. For more information visit

Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at

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Jud Yalkut
NY born, moved to Ohio in 1973 to be Assistant Professor of Art at Wright State University (1973-1977); in NYC taught at School for Visual Arts, York College of the City University, and NYU Continuing Ed; six-time recipient of OAC Individual Artist Fellowings (including one in Criticism); 2005 Ohioana Citation in the Visual Arts in Ohio; 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District.

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