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New Age Nostalgia by Vitus Shell

Exhibition Runs: September 26 - October 25, 2020

New Age Nostalgia by Vitus Shell features large scale paintings of the black experience- giving agency to people from this community through powerful images deconstructing, sampling, and remixing identity, civil rights, and contemporary black culture. 


Shell's work bridges the gap between older and younger generations by exploring and uncovering factors that have contributed to unfortunate relationship breakdowns between the two. His layered, mixed media painting examines parallels between present day behaviors and attitudes that date back to African roots throughout history. His current work experiments with portraiture, acrylic paint, oversized photocopies of early 20th century vintage advertisements, and the incorporation of a foam-cut printing technique. His process and visual language eludes to the hip hop lifestyle with a southern vernacular.


“Using hip-hop lyrics as the basis of my work, I refer to the musical references to create visual icons in my work.  With strong ties existing among the history of rhythm and blues, reggae, and blues music, I depict the social conditions that are apparent in these musical forms and reproduce the images in my own work. In the past, I have often had a problem with art that is too conceptual; however, with the use of the figures, my work becomes accessible to audiences on all levels.” –Vitus Shell


Vitus uses vintage advertisements as a starting point to create narrative based environments; commenting on stereotyping, bigotry, and oppression. The foam-cut printing method provides him with added layers to include text and icons, such as the minstrel images. Shell’s practice also includes extensive research in graffiti art, he incorporates a variation of its characteristics, techniques, and unique aesthetics into the work such as paste-ups, stamps, and stencils. By using these techniques, Vitus challenges the viewer’s engagement with classism through the perception of “low” or “high” art. 


New Orleans writer, storyteller, and photographer L. Kasimu Harris describes Shell’s work as  “steeped in the double consciousness that Dubois explored in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’. Shell’s canvases speak in bold declaration of blackness, examining the idealism of patriotism, but the reality of a pariah. And his subjects of everyday black folk who are often displayed on the white walls in galleries provide viewers a glimpse into lives other than their own. They are a confrontation of race, class and privilege that America wants to ignore.”

Vitus Shell is a mixed-media collage painter born in Monroe, LA, where he lives and works. He received a BFA from Memphis College of Art in Tennessee, 2000 and an MFA from University of Mississippi, 2008. Shell has been in residence at the Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts, Skowhegan School of Art, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, Mass MoCA, Joan Mitchell Center, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Crosstown Arts, Tougaloo Art Colony, and Masur Museum of Art, Monroe, LA. To date, he has accumulated an impressive list of achievements, some of which include: participating in exhibits at universities, museums, and private galleries across the country including The McKenna Museum of African American Art, New Orleans, LA, Gallery Aferro, Newark, NJ, New Orleans Museum of Art, University of Louisiana at Monroe, LA, Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AR, Cue Art Foundation, NYC, Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, TX, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, Tennessee Art Commission Gallery, Nashville, TN, Miami University, Oxford, OH ; painted murals for the National Civil Rights Museum’s NBA Pioneers exhibit, Indianola City Pool in Indianola, MS, Union Parish Elementary School in Farmerville, LA; and being commissioned to do public art by the Memphis UrbanArt Commission. Shell has received numerous grants including the Joan Mitchell MFA Award and Camille Hanks-Cosby Scholarship.

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