Camille Billops: Mirror, Mirror
February 16 - March 25
February 16 – March 25, 2023
Opening reception: February 16, 2023, 6:00-8:00 pm
RYAN LEE is pleased to announce Mirror, Mirror, a solo exhibition of works by the multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and activist Camille Billops. Featuring a series of ceramic mirrors, etchings, and drawings, this is the first significant solo presentation of Billops’s later work.
Infused with experiences of travels abroad, including globally informed artistic practices, Billops first began forging space for her art and activism in the 1960s in New York. A pioneering member of the emerging black artists movement, her work and activism were entwined, engaging with civil rights alongside exclusionary systems of the art industry at large. Throughout her life, her artwork drew from these themes, from the ever-presence of racism to gender dynamics, black culture, and personal narrative and history.
“All my work is about the celebration of family, my private stories and personal vision,” shared Billops in a 1985 interview published in ISSUE, A Journal for Artists. Referencing the Kaohsiung drawings – originally made in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, three of which are featured in this exhibition – she shares that the characters are in fact her and her husband, James V. Hatch, after a “magnificent fight.”
Billops was not only comfortable turning the intimate outward, she was strategic about it, using exposé as a tactic to confront the follies and failures of life, and resolutely unafraid to include her own. For a 2012 show, Billops had commented that her art is “about ‘victory over obscurity and ignorance, and confirmation of herself.’” In this sense, we are able to grasp a fuller picture of the artist, whose activism and committed preservation of black arts and culture is as large a part of her legacy and impact as her work is. Her output, holistically, is perseverance – at once personal and collective.
Billops’s sense of self-confirmation through self-portraiture, refrained in the Kaohsiung drawings, is inherent to the nature of her later mirror series. Begun in the early 2000s and completed in 2011, these metaphorically reflective works are likewise literal presentations of the viewer, placing us squarely within the contexts of the frame.
In some, the mirrors’ ceramic-frame illustrations are figurative, as in Untitled (Checkered) (2003), where cartoonish characters engage in a mock-Americana tableau evoking a realm of behaviors from suspicious to blithe. In White Woman with US Flags (2011), the denotation may be more literal, but the style breaks molds with its looseness of form, as variously proportioned pieces of ceramic dance across the frame. The artwork is detailed with American flags placed amidst the other ceramic pieces, each painted with a shadowy fist raised in silhouette against the stripes.
Also included are her Mondo Negro series of lithographs. This presentation of works, shown together for the first time, honors Billops’s canonical output as an artist-activist. In five variations, Billops portrays in bold, slanting lines, characters and snakes at times falling and at times burning in abstracted landscapes portraying a “black world.” The series continues to bring her perceptive artwork into conversation not only with its own multimedia contexts, but also with those broader contexts that are presciently resonant within them.
Camille Billops (b. 1933, Los Angeles, CA – d. 2019, New York, NY) was an influential artist and filmmaker whose staunch activism and profound belief in the power of memory and representation made her a pillar of the Black New York-based artist community from the 1960s until her death in 2019. As an artist, Billops came into her own within the converging contexts of the 1960s civil rights movement and New York’s emerging Black artists movement. She has unapologetically drawn from her life experiences, family histoy, and community to carve out a space for her voice to be heard. Her work primarily touches upon themes of racism—which she considered ever present throughout society—gender dynamics, Black culture, and personal narrative.
In 2022, Billops was included in the landmark group exhibition Just Above Midtown, 1974 to the Present at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, a retrospective focusing on the historic Just Above Midtown gallery. Billops’s and her husband James Hatch’s documentary filmmaking is currently the subject of a major solo retrospective A String of Pearls: The Films of Camille Billops & James Hatch at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, organized by Third World Newsreel. Billops’s work has also been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions at Featherstone Center for the Arts, PA (2022); Georgia Museum of Art, GA (2019); Brooklyn Museum, NY (2017); and Institute of Contemporary Art, MA (2017), among other institutions. Billops’s work is in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA; Cleveland Museum of Art, OH; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Georgia Museum of Art, GA; Library of Congress, DC; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Das Schubladenmuseum, Bern; Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; and Yale University Art Gallery, CT, among others.
About RYAN LEE
Founded in 2013 by Mary Ryan and Jeffrey Lee, RYAN LEE has established itself as a welcoming place of discovery and dialogue for art ranging from postwar to contemporary. Led by two partners of different generations and backgrounds with over six decades of combined experience, RYAN LEE is committed to presenting innovative and unexpected exhibitions across all spectrums of art practices, including painting, video, sculpture, and performance. The gallery takes chances on a wide variety of boundary-pushing artists; their work is inherently experimental and pushes political, cultural, material, and technical boundaries. In addition, RYAN LEE has, throughout its history, demonstrated its long-standing interest and dedication to feminist, Black, and Asian American, as well as queer narratives in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.