Photos by Caitlin Griffin
Black History Month gets an artistic flair at University of California, Santa Barbara’s MultiCultural Center with the bright and vibrant addition of “The Art Seen,” an exhibit by artist Aaron Carey (a.k.a. Phatty B.). An author, artist, and illustrator, as well as a UCSB alumnus, Carey combines music, dancing, and people to create colorful pieces that nearly move with pent up energy.
“We are so excited to have Aaron Carey ’s exhibit here to kick off Black History month,” Ruby Mojarro, the MCC Acting Programmer, said, “especially since he is a UCSB alum. His artistic style is so incredible and unique!”
A former dance and fitness instructor, Carey was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001, and realized he would need a new way to continue expressing his love of dance and movement. His attention turned to painting where, through brush strokes and color, he could continue his passion for motion. He gave himself the name Phatty B., an alter-ego not constrained or defined by his physical limitations.
“From the first scribble to the masterpiece, my creations are a personal, introspective process of failure, patience, and perseverance choreographed on canvas,” Carey said. “Completely defying my physical imprisonment, I choreograph my dance moves on walls. The music plays. The beat drops. Feelings of freedom and possibility fill my instruments to create the Art Seen; it’s the Phatty B. flow. I love the rhythm of emotion and mood.”
The works themselves inspire beauty and elegance, the images distorted and convoluted in ways that alter the observer’s attention. Perspectives on many of the pieces are shifted to focus on specific elements, like the hands of a man playing piano or the curved hip of a woman. Faces are extended, chins made longer, and cheeks hallowed out into almost cartoonish figures that, through the grace of Carey’s brushstrokes and details, withstand the lean towards caricature and parody.
A key component of each work is its extravagant color scheme and the vitality and dynamism it incorporates. The colors are bold and vibrant, the oranges, yellows, purples, and blues swirling together to ensure each painting resonants with a life all its own. Twisted and hidden among the brushstrokes, one can see the urgency for vitality and action that Multiple Sclerosis has denied the creator.
Tim Yeh, a second-year global studies and Portuguese double major, said the paintings are attracting and demand attention.
“They portray a lot of liveliness,” said Yeh. “When I look at them, I feel intrigued. I want to work with it. I want to see it. I feel like a lot of times when you see art, sometimes you’re not drawn at it. But when you see these art pieces, you are physically drawn into the art.”
Yeh said the paintings tie in well with Black History Month and accurately reflect the lives and culture of African Americans.
“It’s upbeat, and I feel like you really see that through the representations in the paintings,” said Yeh. “At the same time, the struggle of being an African Diaspora, specifically in the United States, is portrayed through various themes that come up within the paintings themselves. So I feel like it is a very good representation.”
Mojarro said she’s excited to have the artist come to UCSB to speak with students about the artwork.
“We hope many UCSB students, faculty, staff, and friends are able to help us welcome Aaron Carey back, Jan. 31 at our Conversation with the Artist at 6:30 p.m.,” she said.
The exhibit runs until March 22, and the MCC encourages students to take a quick break from studying and work to visit the paintings and get a new perspective on Black History Month.