Adam Shopkorn, co-founder of Fort Gansevoort today announced the gallery’s representation of The Estate of Winfred Rembert. Working in close collaboration with the artist’s family, Fort Gansevoort will present its first exhibition of Rembert’s work at its New York City space in September 2021.
Born in Americus, Georgia, in 1945, Winfred Rembert grew up in nearby Cuthbert, a rural railroad town located in the southwest region of the state, once at the center of the Deep South’s plantation economy. As a teen, Rembert was deeply influenced by the American Civil Rights Movement, and his active participation led to confrontations with law enforcement. In 1965, he was arrested and, in 1967, still incarcerated while awaiting charges, Rembert escaped from jail. His ensuing capture and near-lynching, as well as the subsequent hard labor and imprisonment he endured for seven years, would later prove central to the narrative of his extraordinary art. Rembert learned how to tool and craft leather from a fellow prisoner, cleaving to a skill that would become the medium by which he would share his story with the world, for almost twenty-five years, before his death on March 31, 2021, at the age of 75.
Following his release from prison, in 1974, Rembert married Patsy Gammage and they eventually settled in New Haven, Connecticut. At the age of fifty-one, with his wife’s encouragement, he began a full-time artistic practice, carving and painting memories from his youth onto leather. Over time, his compositions accrued as a chronicle of his life, through pictorial landscapes of cotton fields and rhythmic compositions of field workers, freedom marches, church services, juke joints, and chain gangs in the Jim Crow South. In its narrative and formal qualities, Rembert’s work, with its corporeal texture, intense color, powerful patterns, and depictions of both hardship and pleasure, takes its place among the oeuvres of such influential Black American figurative masters as Horace Pippin, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden.
Adam Shopkorn commented: “We are honored and thrilled to be working with Patsy Rembert, Winfred Rembert Jr., and the extended community of family and friends who embraced Winfred Sr. during his life. And we are very proud to join them as dedicated stewards of his legacy. For all of us at Fort Gansevoort, Winfred was a hero. He was a larger-than-life personality, but above all he was a courageous artist who developed a unique visual language, then deployed that language to transmute pain, prejudice, and trauma into something truthful, beautiful, and universal. We look forward to sharing Winfred’s achievements with wider and more diverse audiences in the months and years ahead. And we look forward to welcoming visitors to our exhibition of his work in New York City this coming September.”
About the Artist
Winfred Rembert (1945-2021) was raised by a great-aunt in Cuthbert, Georgia. He began working in the cotton fields at a young age and received limited education. The circumstances of his upbringing as a Black American in the Jim Crow South propelled Rembert into the fight for equality through the Civil Rights Movement. After attending a demonstration in Americus, in 1965, he was pursued by armed White men and stole a car to escape. The harrowing experience of his arrest, escape from jail, and near lynching by a mob resulted in seven years of imprisonment and forced labor for Rembert. While incarcerated, he learned from a fellow inmate how to tool leather into wallets and handbags. Rembert embraced the tradition of leather tooling and dyeing and developed his own visual style. His unique leatherwork would become the medium through which Rembert would powerfully detail his life, transforming personal and collective trauma into art.
Rembert began his full-fledged career as an artist in the late 1990s after settling in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife, Patsy. It was here that he befriended Phil and Sharon McBlain, owners of a local antiquarian bookstore, who displayed Rembert’s work in their shop. Following the sale of his first work, the McBlains purchased leather and tools for Rembert to begin working on pieces that would portray his life story. The artist focused on the many incidents stored in his memory to convey both the painful and joyful experiences of Black life in the Jim Crow South. Rembert’s subject matter oscillates between instances of immense cruelty – lynchings, hard labor in chains – to moments of recreation, dancing, and singing. Scenes from cotton fields figure prominently in the artist’s oeuvre – images in which his gift for balancing color, composition, and an uncanny understanding of movement is present.
The York Square Cinema in New Haven launched a solo exhibition of Rembert’s leather paintings in 1998. Exhibitions followed at the Yale University Art Gallery and in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, among other locales and, in 2012, the artist received his first major solo museum presentation: “Amazing Grace” debuted at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York, and traveled to four additional venues until 2014. This mid-career survey included more than fifty works and incorporated historical photographs of Georgia, as well as gospel music recorded and performed in the Museum’s galleries by Rembert. ‘Amazing Grace’ also showcased the feature-length documentary “All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert” (2011), produced and directed by Vivian Ducat. When reminiscing on the title of the exhibition, the artist stated, “Amazing Grace is one of the songs I remember that was sung in the fields. I just loved to listen to the singing. Singing was the only thing about the fields that I loved.”
Winfred Rembert’s work is represented in the permanent collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, AL; and the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY. Rembert’s work was highlighted in major exhibitions at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL in 2013; the Flint Institute of the Arts, Flint, MI in 2013; the Citadelle Art Foundation, Canadian, Texas in 2012; the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY in 2012; the Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC in 2012; the Adelson Galleries, New York in 2010, and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT in 2000.
Bloomsbury will be publishing “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” by Winfred Rembert as told to Erin I. Kelly, with a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, in August 2021.