The Robert S. Duncanson Society of the Taft Museum of Art has selected painter Brian Joiner as the 2009 Robert S. Duncanson Artist-in-Residence from a pool of local and national candidates. A well-known figure in Cincinnati, Joiner has received an Individual Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council and was named “best portrait artist in the city” by Cincinnati Magazine. His long list of solo and group exhibitions includes shows throughout Greater Cincinnati and across the country.
The Taft Museum of Art established the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence program in 1986 to honor the achievements of contemporary artists of African descent working in a variety of disciplines and media. The program also honors the relationship between African American painter Robert S. Duncanson and his patron, Nicholas Longworth, who commissioned Duncanson to paint landscape murals in the foyer of his home, now the Taft Museum of Art.
This notion of patronage appeals to this year’s Duncanson Artist-in-Residence. Joiner notes that, although completed in the mid-19th century, “The murals are always going to be relevant because of the patron/artist relationship. The business relationship between the two of them is really important: here was a very wealthy white man supporting an African American artist before the Civil War.”
Following his 1985 graduation from the Cleveland Institute of Art, Joiner took a 10-year hiatus from painting, disillusioned by the reception his landscape paintings received. During that time, he devoted himself to the study of art in Cincinnati’s museums. When his study led him to the Taft, he was struck by the strength of the collection, especially the works by Whistler, Hals, Turner, and Duncanson.
“It’s a wonderful collection and a wonderful space, and the murals just enhance that. They’re literally part of the Museum. I could not believe how beautiful they were, but at the time I didn’t know about Duncanson and didn’t know he was African American.” Duncanson Society founder Joel McCray and members Herb Allen and Vernita Henderson introduced Joiner to more of Duncanson’s work.
“The murals are great pre-Civil War murals no matter what the ethnicity of the artist, but knowing Duncanson was African American made me take more of an interest in his work and in the murals,” Joiner said.
Joiner is completing a group of new paintings to be exhibited at the Taft. “They will be narrative paintings in Duncanson’s Hudson River School style, but incorporating contemporary issues of war, peace, home, civil rights, and patronage, and with a humorous approach to these serious subjects,” he explained.
“I’m honored to be part of this program. I did not apply before because I didn’t feel I was ready,” Joiner said. “But if I can get all the people I encounter during the residency to associate Duncanson’s name with landscape, I’ll have achieved my goal.”