The BAIA Contemporary Collector Series
Collecting African American Art in the 21st Century
By D. Amari Jackson
The collecting of works by African-American artists is at an historic high. This is the first of a series of profiles here at Black Art In America, documenting and highlighting the collectors of African-American artworks and their stories as they collect in contemporary times.
Why do human beings collect art? The answers to this question are likely as old as humanity itself given art has been there from the beginning. They run the gamut from the adorning of a living space to the expression of one’s personality in imagery, from the accumulation of value to the preservation of culture and history. There are a wide variety of reasons why we humans line our walls and local environments with art—be they financial, inspirational, communal, or individual.
Why do Black people collect art? Well, as the oldest humans on earth, who have expressed art longer than any other, these reasons are largely the same. That said, our unique history, culture, and trajectory as a people has undoubtedly flavored our incentives for collecting in a particular way, one not necessarily shared by other cultures or, at least, not in the same way. Examples include Black art collection as a custodial endeavor, one aimed at protecting, portraying, and preserving an oft-marginalized, visual art culture; as documentation of the African-American experience; as a form of communal support or self-investment, both financially and artistically; and as positive self-affirmation and imagery.
Dr. Dameon Fisher and wife, Kimberly, are contemporary collectors. The Atlanta-based dentist graduated Morehouse College in 1992 before completing General Practice and Orthodontic residencies respectively at Meharry Medical College and Howard University. Dr. Fisher has practiced dentistry for two decades and now owns multiple practices in the Metro Atlanta area. Along with their own collection of hundreds of works by Black artists, mostly from the American South, Fisher also incorporates pieces from their collection in his dental practice.
BAIA recently caught up with Dr. Fisher to talk about his own reasons for collecting.
BAIA: What was your first significant exposure to art?
FISHER: I can tell you that came from Frank [Frazier]. While at school at Morehouse, I returned home for a Christmas break and we were developing, at that time, a student organization at Morehouse and we needed donations to get it off the ground. So a good friend of mine knew Frank Frazier and we called him up. He invited us over to his studio just to talk to us….
I remember going through a basement door in the back of his house and, man, it opened my world up to art, seeing his studio and all of Frank’s vibrant pieces, all the fabric. It just totally immersed us into this world, the art world….
While at Morehouse, I was working as a student and I ended up going to Dr. McLarin’s cardiology practice. I walked in and remember seeing a Henry Porter painting, over a reflection pool, at the entrance of his office. And it was just one of the things that captured me. That scene, the beauty and the regalness of Henry Porter over that reflecting pool, had me hooked. The connection there was that Frank Frazier and Dr. McLarin were really good friends because McLarin collected Frank Frazier’s work. So, by the time I came back here to Atlanta to begin practicing after finishing my training in dental school and residencies, I had befriended Dr. McLarin. And Dr. McLarin had me and Frank Frazier over to the house one night, and it was full circle. So I knew that I must be in the right place because it just kept leading me back to Frank Frazier’s art which was my initial introduction to fine art.
BAIA: When did you start collecting?
FISHER: The first piece I actually bought was in 1990. That piece was an Ernie Barnes’ piece and I purchased it for my wife who was my girlfriend-fiancée at the time, and it was a graduation piece for graduating from Clark Atlanta University. I bought her a print, and I thought that was a really big thing and a very unique gift—unlike any other gifts that my buddies were giving to their girlfriends. So I thought I was doing it. And she hung that piece in her apartment here in Atlanta until she joined me at Meharry….
So that piece—Ernie Barnes, “The Graduate”—traveled from Atlanta to Meharry and then it followed us during my time in dental school all the way to Howard University and hung in our apartment there while I was doing my residency in Orthodontics. And then it came back to Atlanta when we came back to purchase our home, and that was one of the first pieces that we hung in our house. It reminded us of our accomplishments and our journey. And it was the foundation piece to our collection.
BAIA: When did you consciously begin referring to yourself as a collector?
FISHER: We didn’t consciously say we were collecting until we started to frequent the National Black Arts Festival. Now Frank Frazier comes back in our lives at this time because he was a mainstay and one of the most prominent artists during the National Black Arts Festival at Greenbriar Mall. So when we visited the festival, we reunited with Frank Frazier and he embraced us again, took us by the shoulders, and pointed us, not only to his work, but to all the other artists that were participating in the fair….
He really kind of helped us start to collect art. And, luckily, we were in the right place since we were amongst some of the best artists. They brought their best work to the fair and we started to collect at that time. That was probably 2000 or 2001 when we started to collect those early pieces.
BAIA: Who are some of the artists in your collection?
FISHER: Most of our artists are from the Southeast. Through an effort of us trying to get to know the artists personally, and doing studio visits with artists, we had access to Southeastern artists. Living here in Atlanta, we had huge access to artists here who are very creative and doing some great work, and we liken it to the Harlem Renaissance when they were just doing fantastic work, and it was a huge concentration of really good creatives. So we were able to befriend folks like Basil Watson, Radcliffe Bailey, Najee Dorsey, Kevin Cole, Lillian Blades, and, you know, it goes on and on. And these people embraced us.
First, of course, it was a little bit intimidating because we didn’t quite know the questions to ask. We knew we liked the work. That was what drew us to those sometimes uncomfortable situations because we didn’t know the right questions to ask people about their art, or how to gauge it. But a lot of them were open enough to start to teach us how to engage when you look at art. Then we came to Avisca Gallery, run by Lynn and Burma (Lynn Porter and Byrma Braham). That was our first opportunity to work with a gallery, and they introduced us to a lot of the artists. They were really instrumental in us learning how to engage an artist and start to explore their work and what things to look for.
And I’m gonna tell you how it came even more full circle. Lynn’s father is Henry Porter! So I walk into the Avisca gallery and there is a gentlemen seated there in the foyer, and I introduced myself. He introduced himself by first name and then Lynn finally comes out and we say our hellos and she goes, “Have you met my father?” And I said, yes, I did. She was like, “Well, here’s his work here.” It was Henry Porter that was sitting there.
So our path has always kind of been drawn for us. All we had to do was to have the faith and follow that path because we were led in the direction of being able to have this opportunity and vision. It was already paved.
BAIA: Is your collection displayed anywhere outside of your home?
FISHER: We have art everywhere. What I mean by that is, everywhere I spend time, I have art. We have art in our home. We have art in my office. We have art in our vacation home. And we want to make sure that our daughter grows up with the art, understanding that there is a creative side to this world, and that her imagination is only as limited as she makes it. We have her engage with the artists, so she has done work with Kevin Cole when he has done a commission for us, allowing her to come in and work on a piece of art alongside him to add her elements to it.
BAIA: Where do you collect? Online? Galleries? Both?
FISHER: Of course, we’re still working with galleries. We are more inclined to reach out to the artists through social media because our collecting relationship is based on knowing the artists, having a personal relationship with the artists. So engaging the artists through social media is one way, as are galleries, art advisers, and, of course, we’re all over the online platforms helping to educate ourselves and consider those artists that have a spotlight on them. We want to look at those emerging artists and find the young talent.
And then, lastly, auctions. We’re always looking at the secondary market to see what the works are doing to make sure that we’re playing our part in helping the value of the art remain consistent and increase in value. So we’re pretty much all over the board.
BAIA: Why is collecting African-American art, in particular, important to you?
FISHER: African-American art tells the stories of our lives. It tells the stories of our past struggles, and it also shows the brightness of our future. Through being introduced to Russell Goings, a collector in New York, he actually helped us develop what our purpose is. Goings, who’s 90 years old, helped us understand our purpose is to collect the art and share the stories that the artist wants to be told about the work. And, of course, share that with as many people as we can and really give the art a voice. He helped us understand that these objects are just things until we, as the collector or the caretaker of these objects, are able to share and tell the story. We have to make sure people understand our story, our past, our history, our future.
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AMARI JACKSON is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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