Text Messages

Curated by Erin Jenoa Gilbert
September 27, 2023
March 3, 2024
Third Floor Gallery


JoeSam. is a contemporary mixed media painter and installation artist. Born on August 17, 1938 in Harlem, New York, he received his B.A. degree in sociology in 1961 from St. Paul’s College in Virginia, his M.S. degree in educational psychology from Columbia University in New York, and his Ph.D. in education and psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a self taught artist who has been practicing for over 40 years.

JoeSam, Country, Mixed media on canvas

While a student at Columbia, he facilitated educational seminars for public school teachers and at the Floyd Patterson House in the East Village, a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders. In 1976, committed to youth education and empowerment, JoeSam. was hired as director of the Head Start program for the City of San Francisco, California. While working full time, JoeSam. began the Black West Series and the Black Jazz Series. In 1985 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and retired from education to be a full time artist. JoeSam. was named an artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s Learning through Education in the Arts Project (LEAP) in 1987. In 1999, he became a Djerassi Artist-in-Residence in Woodside, California and was awarded the Compton Foundation Fellowship. He executed commissioned artworks for several institutions including the San Francisco Mission Police Station Juvenile Facility, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Rosa Parks Metro Rail Station, and the Sharks Ice Center in San Jose, California.

His colorful compositions contain found materials from the streets of California. Juxtaposing discarded elements such as bicycle wheels, cigarettes, plastic pipes and wooden blocks with archival images and news clippings, discordant colors in large capital letters strewn across the canvas provide context clues to the message he wishes to convey. His works are political commentary on the continuous state of affairs in the Black community. Incited by the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 in which hundreds of African Americans were poisoned by cult leader Jim Jones, to the observation of the Black body on the auction block, to the Rodney King beating by the LAPD, to the Charleston shooting in which three men and six women were murdered at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, JoeSam. has referenced these events without calling the trauma or bloodshed to our collective memory.

He has been commissioned to create artwork for commercial purposes including The Invisible Hunters (1987), which was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book; and album covers for Bobby McFerrin’s Medicine Man (1990), Bennie Maupin and Dr. Patrick Gleeson’s Driving While Black (1998), and Upsurge’s All Hands-on Deck (2000) and Chromatology (2004).

During his four (1975-2015) decades in San Francisco he forged life-long friendships with other Bay Area painters including Robert Colescott, Joe Overstreet, Raymond Saunders, Arthur Monroe and Mary Lovelace O’Neal.

This exhibition, the first museum exhibition in San Francisco, will feature approximately 20 mixed media paintings from key series produced between 1985 and 2020 from the artist's personal collection and private collections.

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