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September 10 - October 29, 2005 at M. Hanks Gallery, Santa Monica

by Ray Zone

"Both my ethnic and cultural backgrounds serve as root sources of my work," artist William Pajaud has written. Pajaud, who recently turned 80, is one of the preeminent living African American artists. An exhibition of his recent work showcases his skills with oil pastel, pencil drawing and watercolor. The works are intimate in scale and emotion, and consist of figure studies and portraits. A mood of quiet reflection, dignity and warmth informs this richly personal art.

In 2003 the gallery exhibited paintings and drawings of Pajaud with a selection of works dedicated to honoring black women and remembering the artist’s good friend, John Biggers. Long in the front rank of African American artists, Biggers passed away in 2001 and he is remembered in the current exhibit with a sensitively executed pencil drawing titled simply "John."

Pajaud’s mother was a religious woman fond of wearing hats to church. She apparently had a huge collection of hats, and is celebrated in the exhibit with two works. "Church Lady #7" is a freely rendered oil pastel depicting the profile of a smiling woman wearing a large green hat with red flowers. She is bedecked with a yellow floral earring, is colorfully made-up and appears to be ready for a celebration. Similarly, thelarge pastel "Going to Church" depicts a woman wearing large hoop earrings and a wide-brimmed orange hat with a green band and flowers passing by a faintly etched cemetery with gravestones and crosses in the background. The woman’s quietly reflective expression bespeaks awareness of mortality and the fragility of life.

The artist’s father, William Pajaud Sr., for years played trumpet for and sometimes led traditional New Orleans Jazz funeral bands. William Sr. frequently wore a white sailor’s cap with brim as part of his uniform in the funeral bands. He is remembered affectionately in the small pencil drawing titled "Willie" wearing such a cap. Behind the loosely rendered face of Willie in his cap is the graveyard filled with crosses. Another larger, sepia-colored pastel also depicts a musician in funeral jazz band uniform. "Eureka Clean" is a reference to both musical nickname and the Eureka Brass Band, which he fronted in the 1940s.

"House Rent Party Sax," oil
pastel, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2".

"John," pencil 12 x 9".

"Girl at the Beach," pastel,
20 1/2 x 29 1/2".

"Ms. "tude," 2004, oil
pastel, 16 1/4 x 12 1/4".

Music is also celebrated in the oil pastel "House Rent Party Sax." In this 19 1/2 by 15 1/2 inch portrait, a musician wearing a suit and tie blows a tenor saxophone. A filigree of yellow lines emanates from the instrument itself and its bell to suggest the swirling warmth of the sound. The kinetic lines swarm out with energetic vigor over a cool blue background.

Several studies in the exhibit forthrightly proclaim the beauty of the black woman. "Girl at the Beach," a large oil pastel, depicts a full figured and elongated woman unselfconsciously reclining nude on a sun-drenched beach, and gazing at the blue ocean in the distance. "Finger Painting #1" is a freely and boldly rendered torso study of a well-endowed and powerful woman. The large pastel "Hot Pink and Lace" draws our attention from a foreground close-up of a face, to the background where a woman in a revealing sheer pink dress walks away from us.

Pajaud remains as productive as ever. These new works have been made in a classic mode as formal studies of faces and figures. They are, nevertheless, informed with Pajaud’s colorful personal history and convey a high degree of emotional impact, remembrance and nostalgia.

"My primary need," says Pajaud, "is to show my gut reaction to humankind’s coping with the cycles of life and death."