creativity, culture, community
“We are delighted to have the beautiful, vibrant work of Charly Palmer as the signature art for the 36th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival,” states Camille Russell Love, Director of the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. “We chose ‘Layers’ because of its kinetic feel. The musicians appear to be playing so intensely and to be so deeply immersed in the moment, that you can almost hear the music. And we loved the richness of the color palette. We know everyone’s going to want the festival poster!”
Charly Palmer grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a young boy about the age of five he read a book called The Snowy Day by noted author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats. The book is about a boy who explores his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the season. The visuals in the book resonated with Palmer and profoundly changed the course of his life.
“The art in that book was a revelation for me,” says Palmer. “Not only did the main character look like me, but I was drawn to the artist’s style and his use of bold colors. He did interesting things with patterns and geometric shapes. Some of the art looked almost like fabric. I rediscovered the book a few years ago and realized how directly it had affected my way of looking at the world.”
Drawing and painting were always a part of Palmer’s life, but throughout his teens he thought of it as a hobby. One of six children growing up, he got involved with school and friends and time flew by. During his last year in high school he started focusing on a career path. He loved history and was a good athlete, but in his heart he wanted to become a real artist. He realized that painting was his true calling and he decided he wanted to go to art school.
“I was raised by a single mom who was extremely resourceful,” Palmer explains. “She has always been my biggest supporter. She emphasized that we should live our passion and she made every avenue available for me to succeed.”
Palmer moved to Chicago and attended the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art, where he received his Bachelors of Fine Arts degree. He credits his teachers and mentors with enriching his life and art. Bill Parks taught him at the American Academy of Art. His mentors also include the late Carl Owens, who was a master of many different mediums, and painter Paul Goodnight, who uses colors and textures in ever-changing styles.
Palmer has always been an avid history buff. “I love history as much as art,” Palmer says. “My ah-ha moment came when I knew I could combine the two. I’m inspired by Ken Burns’ style of telling stories. He makes history come alive. I wanted to do that with my art.”
He began creating series of works chronicling historical events, often focusing on subjects that had been overlooked, and on oppressed people who were struggling against incredible odds. He has painted works depicting the Middle Passage through slavery, the Jim Crow era, players and scenes of the Negro Sports Leagues, and events of the Civil Rights era. His focus is not limited to the African American experience, but includes the plight of Native Americans and the Jewish Holocaust.
“I almost always create in a series with as many as fifty paintings about one subject,” Palmer explains. “Once I delve into the research, I want to tell a story. I’m particularly excited about a major exhibit that I’m currently working on for the DuSable Museum in Chicago about the 1963 March on Washington. It will include about 35 paintings and it’s slated to open this July.”
A successful artist for two decades Palmer’s works have been collected by corporations, galleries and private art enthusiasts all across the country. He has work at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Apex and Hammond House in Atlanta, ArtJaz in Philadelphia, the Thelma Harris Art Gallery in Oakland, Vanderbilt University in Nashville and the Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee.
Two years ago Palmer was approached with an opportunity to teach. “I wasn’t sure I was ready for this kind of commitment,” Palmer says. “But I felt I had experiences to share. So I stepped up to the challenge and have been teaching Painting and History of Painting classes at Spelman and Morehouse in Atlanta for the last 1½ years. I love it. We talk a lot about getting out of your comfort zone in class, finding and establishing an identity. I’m trying to give my students all the fundamentals and then push them further.”
When Palmer received news that his painting, “Layers,” had been chosen by the Atlanta Jazz Festival as this year’s signature artwork he was thrilled. “It’s an absolute honor to be involved with the festival,” he remarks. “It’s interesting that they chose this painting. Although I have done paintings with music themes, I had not done anything musical in years before this one. I was inspired to create something that moved. I splashed four colors onto the canvas when I started and I began to see instruments in the paint. The work just evolved organically. It was my version of an impromptu jam.”
Palmer will have a booth in Piedmont Park during the Atlanta Jazz Festival so stop by to say hello and see his beautiful art in person. There will also be special exhibition entitled “Rhythms” at the ZuCot Gallery featuring 35 of his music-themed paintings from April 26-June 14. For more information visit his web site: www.charlypalmer.com.
Sponsors for this year’s festival include PNC Bank, The Coca-Cola Company, Publix, Bank of America, MARTA, Loews Atlanta Hotel, id8, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and Federal Home Loan Bank.
The 36th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival is presented by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, a division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. Join us on Facebook at AtlantaJazzFestival and visit the festival web site at www.atlantafestivals.com for all the latest news!