Fully embracing textile-based work as fine art, Goldfinch has turned over its three gallery spaces to artists who brilliantly command the medium. The gem among these is Brandon Chavis’ “for colored queers,” organized by curatorial director Elizabeth Lalley. Exhibited in Goldfinch’s recently opened East Wing space, Chavis’ four large-scale works are deliberately unpolished but imbued with emotion and energy.
Upon entering the gallery, ““Between Us Two”” (2021) quickly captures your attention. Its bold red and green background is activated by two Black figures collaged from repurposed textile fragments and found materials. The piece is outlined on the right and bottom sides with a deep border of black and white stripes painted diagonally. Chavis leaves the edges of the fabric elements raw, with loose threads visible, and pieces together the two figures in abstract assemblages. Limbs are disproportionate in size to the rest of the body, which in turn brings them to life. Their bright red lips sparkle with glitter and faint embroidered wavy lines suggest the smile of bright white teeth. The artist has cheekily freed the nipple for both. They dance and flirt in the joyful presence of the other with an enviable vitality.
When you turn around, you’ll find yourself face to face with the portrait “For Dion” (2022) on the opposite wall. Framed at the top with an ornate piece of a wooden bed frame, the portrait is tender and direct—Dion seemingly makes eye contact with you as they turn their head to meet your gaze. They kneel on a wrinkled bedspread, its pattern ubiquitous in Black households. The length of their body is constructed with fabric scraps in shades of brown, black and tan. Each piece is intimately stitched in place to create a body fully alive, aware and proud of their sensual appeal.
Sourced from thrift stores in St. Louis—where Chavis lives, the artist’s own wardrobe and other fabric gifted to him, the unfinished quality of the textiles and other deconstructed materials speaks to the rawness of the queer experience. By collaging his figures out of abandoned and discarded materials, he’s lovingly given them a new poetic purpose, capturing the vibrancy and identity of his community. The materiality of each work infuses them with life.
Given the large scale and emotional magnitude Chavis works in, I wondered if this exhibition would have thrived better in one of the gallery’s bigger spaces. I found myself wishing I could step back further to take in each piece individually but the size of the small room does not allow for that. However, the tight intimacy of the East Wing does put you in close proximity with the work, where you cannot avoid the details and material choices Chavis made, nor the visceral emotion he floods each piece with.
“For Dion” is the only true portrait in the exhibition. According to the artist, the other three are emotional avatars for the feelings and moments that queers of color experience. In Chavis’ work, Black queerness cannot be contained to neat and orderly portraits. Instead it is vibrant, rough, and, above all, exhilarating to behold. The artist’s debut in Chicago should not be missed. (Jacqueline WayneGuite)
“for colored queers” is on view at Goldfinch, 319 North Albany, through July 23.