Chicago artist David Geary’s exhibit ‘Experimental’ explores Black identity through colorful portraits


Photo courtesy of Fran Joy

Geary gained a popular following for his work that celebrates Black identity and the women in his life.

Jack Austin, Senior Staffer

Chicago artist David Anthony Geary said he almost missed his life calling.

While studying biology as a pre-med student at Xavier University of Louisiana, Geary was preparing to become a psychiatrist before his mentor John T. Scott convinced Geary he could make a living as an artist.

“Experimental,” Geary’s exhibit at Evanston Art Center, will run through Feb. 12. Geary said the artwork displayed is meant to depict a wide visual spectrum, exhibiting the diversity of his creative process.

Geary said people inspire him to make portraits. He said his colorful portraits often highlight the beauty in the Black female form. He likes to create beautiful, monumental works that reflect intimate relationships with family and friends that combat the historically elitist and inaccessible nature of portraiture, he said.

“(The paintings are) often a reflection of our relationship,” Geary said. “They are everyday folks. They may be artists, they may be teachers, lawyers, all walks of life. When people see the work, they start to see themselves as everyday people.”

Fran Joy, a member of the Evanston Art Center Exhibition Committee, said the exhibit stands out due to the work’s vibrant color, large scale and the use of circles, characteristic of Geary’s style.

South Side Chicago artist Candace Hunter said Geary’s linework is unique to his style and that his use of color is exciting. Geary’s use of color describes the feeling of his subjects, evoking their emotion in the moment, she said.

Geary’s linework is comparable to shorthand that shows the intimacy of his subject, often a Black woman, and tells that particular subject’s story, according to Hunter. She said Geary’s portraits attempt to create a nuanced and celebratory identity.

“What I see is an immense and intense love of Blackness, and especially the Black female body,” Hunter said. “He gives a great deal of respect, honor and love to his mother, sisters, friends, who are (Black).”

Geary said he wants people to have emotional and guttural experiences at the exhibit, feeling warmer in the spirit or seeing beauty in a new way.

According to Joy, the exhibit highlights multiple mediums Geary has experimented with, including photography, paint and video. She said Geary is one of her favorite artists and she likes him for being versatile yet recognizable.

Joy said Geary seeks to show the value of the people close to him through his art and often depicts them in a regal manner. Both Joy and Hunter also said they are impressed by the color in his works.

“If he’s using purples and yellows, I can imagine the brightness of a soul against the backdrop of the barriers in one’s way at times,” Hunter said. “I can see wellness and in some of his work just through color, through the fluidity of the lines that he pierces, the faces and the body swim.”

Patric McCoy, an activist art collector on the South Side, has collected Geary’s work for close to 20 years. He said he noticed the shift in focus in Geary’s work from the female body to portraiture in recent years.

McCoy said he has purchased several of Geary’s pieces because of how he can render the face of Black individuals with a unique style that uses circular forms to create depth and surface of the face. A Gil Scott-Heron painting created by Geary hangs prominently in McCoy’s living room because it is an imposing, powerful piece, he said.

“I really like how he makes us African Americans look noble and distinguished and powerful,” McCoy said.

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