Johnny Coleman: From Concept to Creation

July 25, 2018

Hillary Hempstead

Outside the front doors of a church, the artist stands behind a pulpit and faces two wooden pews.
Professor of Art and Africana Studies Johnny Coleman stands in front of St. Mark’s Church in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood.
Photo credit: Jesse Kucewicz

Johnny Coleman is an artist-in-residence for this summer’s FRONT International Triennial. This photo essay demonstrates his artistic process for Reflections From Here: Elders of Glenville, installed at St. Mark’s Church in Cleveland.  

Johnny Coleman, Young Hunter Professor of Art and Africana Studies, was awarded an artist-in-residency position for this summer’s FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art: An American City, a global art exhibition based in Northeast Ohio, running July 14 through September 30, 2018.

As one of the six Cleveland-based artists selected to participate, along with six international and six national artists, Coleman was given workspace in The Madison, a building inside the new PNC Glenville Arts Campus in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.

View photos of his artistic process, from conceptual sketch to the exhibition’s opening, for his FRONT project, Reflections From Here: Elders of Glenville.

Portrait of Johnny Coleman

Johnny Coleman typically relies on human interaction to lay the groundwork for his projects. Those interactions typically take the form of extended conversations, as was the case for Reflections From Here: Elders of Glenville.

Coleman asked elders in the Glenville community two questions: What are your memories of Glenville? What are your aspirations for this community? Their responses inspired his installation at the now vacant St. Mark’s Church on East Boulevard in Cleveland.  [Photo credit: John Seyfried]

conceptual sketch of church exterior

Coleman’s conceptual sketch of the installation on the exterior of St. Mark’s Church. [Sketch by Johnny Coleman]

hands working on a wood carving

Coleman constructs seats from repurposed oak, which were inspired by the grandfather chairs of the Dan people from West Africa. [Photo credit: John Seyfried]

johnny coleman building wooden chairs

Coleman builds seats in his workshop. [Photo credit: John Seyfried]

painting wooden chairs

Coleman paints the chairs by hand. [Photo credit: John Seyfried]

johnny coleman installing a pulpit

Coleman installs a pulpit facing church pews and East Boulevard in an area of Cleveland once called The Gold Coast. [Photo credit: Jesse Kucewicz]

pulpit and chair

On either side of the pulpit, two chairs are situated, seemingly in conversation, with repurposed oak pews placed outside of the church. [Photo credit: Jesse Kucewicz]

outside of st marks church with pews

Coleman stands in front of St. Mark’s Church during the installation process. Speakers are mounted on the facade of the now vacant church. Voices of the elders emanate, each speaking to the richness, complexity, and challenges in their community. Alongside their stories, Bonita Wagner Johnson sings, “Move on up a Little Higher.” [Photo credit: Jesse Kucewicz]

two chairs and a telescope

An extension of his Glenville-based project, Coleman also placed sound installations, Upon Reflection (1) and (2), at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA). The audio includes stories from Glenville elders and a telescope that points in the direction of the church. [Photo credit: Jesse Kucewicz]

exterior of st. marks church in glenville

A view of St. Mark’s Church during the opening of Reflections From Here: Elders of Glenville. [Photo credit: Hillary Hempstead]

johnny coleman speaking with a crowd gathered in front of church

Coleman addresses the crowd gathered for the exhibition’s opening day. Attendees include Glenville residents he interviewed for the project. [Photo credit: Hillary Hempstead]


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