(Artwork by Chesapeake-born Julian Haskins)

By Betsy DiJulio

“How about not me?” quipped Clayton Singleton in a recent Zoom interview. “I wanted to put some brothers and sisters up on the wall…to have that feeling of being in the background,” explained the VEER Magazine 2020 Mural Artist of the Year and curator of Light form All Sides, the current group exhibition at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center.

If you know—or even know of—Singleton, it will come as no surprise that this teaching artist activist—a popular and longtime teacher at Lake Taylor High—would  conceive of an exhibition about light, love, and music featuring artists of color.  About the participants, he asserts that “these are nine artists who I’ve seen doing things…their work turns me on” he says.  Weary of the term “emerging artists,” Singleton considers each 20- to 30-something Hampton Roads-based artist to be developing and searching, but also “found,” not to mention “fearless in a sense, operating without gateways.”

For this show, inspired by Quincy Adams’ Back on the Block album, Singleton—with his graying beard—served not only as curator, but mentor to these members of the next generation.  His unique concept for this show matched each artist with a type of love, e.g. love of authenticity, love of community, etc., what the curator calls “a kaleidoscope of experiences.”  It also matched each with a musical artist, similar to the artist’s tone, and invited the visual artists to interpret both, while also selecting their own musical inspiration “most reflective of their create voice.” But “not in a literal way at all.”  Participating artists include Mensah Bey (community), Jasmyne Hampden (freedom), Julian Haskins (friendship), Poetry Jackson (communication), Ray Johnson (family), Parrish Majestic (exploration), Alyssa Pickens (self and becoming), Rain Spann (transition), and ChaVonne Whisonant (authenticity).

The artists—some degreed and some self-taught or, as one prefers, a “natural creative”—work in a variety of media and even disciplines.  As painters with distinctive styles, they fall somewhere along a spectrum of what Singleton describes as abstract realism with influences from cubism, surrealism, and the contemporary art world.  For this show, he provided each with a 4 x 5’ canvas and other supplies and materials as needed in order to remove barriers.  “Through an exploration of writing, cultural context, and emotional honesty,” he explains, “each artist arrived at revelations about themselves and created large scale artworks.”  

Light from All Sides was originally conceived in 2019 for a Virginia Beach venue, but Covid19 was responsible for two postponements and, finally, a cancellation.  In search of a new site, Singleton sent a proposal to Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center.  The show was a natural fit for the center which Corrin Morgan, marketing coordinator, describes as focused on “accessibility of the arts.”  Part of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, this hyper-local arts center offers both permanent and rotating gallery spaces, a theatre, classes, and public programming.  With 10 to 12 exhibitions curated in a normal year by Cindy, the center is proud to help young artists build their resumes.  Community programming planned in conjunction with Light from All Sides can be found on the Donning-Gross website.

But from whence does the show’s title come?  Explains Singleton, “When we leave doubt, reluctance, and regret, stepping into love is like stepping outside into the sun and feeling light from all sides.”


Light from All Sides

Through March 6

Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center

2410 Wickham Avenue

Newport News, (757) 247-8950