Published: Jan 24, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 24, 2012 12:04 PM
Artist portrays men and their machines
Pride, dignity are showcased in exhibit on African-Americans' cars
CARY - Jason Franklin's family never had "memorable" cars. But the classics that lined the hillside at his future wife's family reunions - gleaming, chromed and meticulously detailed - they were something else.The Novas and Dodges and Fairlanes he saw were the hook to a darn good story, on display now in the gallery of the Cary Arts Center. In paintings thick with color, black men crouch and lean by cars and motorcycles in classic man-machine matrimony.Franklin, an art teacher at Cary Academy, used paintings, photographs and video to build a social story around old hot rods. It begins early in the 20th century, in Southern sharecropping fields."When the sharecroppers would bring in, for example, their tobacco crop, the dealerships would show up" with cars for sale, he said. And with homeownership often obstructed by social walls, Franklin said, the automobile often was a more attainable possession and symbol for African-American men."I'm going to defer my energy and time and resources into something that I can own," he explained. "Grandfather did it, father does it and now son does it."Funded by Cary Academy, Franklin traveled across Virginia in summer 2010 to meet black men and their vehicles. Some were relatives or friends, others introduced by helpful uncles. He took photographs, recorded interviews and imprinted his experiences in bright, fluid-like oil paintings."I wanted to take it to a whole different level," he said. "These are beautifully kept cars - these guys have these intimate relationships with these cars."One of Franklin's subjects floats on a motorcycle in a field of sublime yellow, symbolic of the freedom of the road.Others' well-polished cars reflect suburban homes, showing black Americans' journey through the country's socioeconomic divisions.Through the decades, Franklin said, cars were symbols and an anchors. Even an interviewee with lofty accolades and academic degrees kept the most esteem, Franklin said, for his 1985 Cadillac Seville."I think it's about pride and dignity," the artist said. He drives, by the way, a 2005 Dodge Ram pickup that he'll keep until he dies, he said.