Joe Sam attempts to correct history books with his "The Black West Series," which makes the point that not every black American of the 19th Century could be found south of the Mason-Dixon line polishing Miss Scarlett's silver.
Unbeknownst to the movie industry (which has done more than its share to foster misconceptions regarding world history), there were black cowpokes, rustlers, prospectors and rodeo stars. "The Black West Series," on view through Sunday at Brockman Gallery, is out to set the record straight.
Cloaking his lesson in historical revisionism in a playful visual style that makes his point of view easy to accept, this San Francisco artist occasionally allows his highly sophisticated sense of composition to upstage his themes; Sam's pictures are so much fun to look at that you almost don't care what they're about. Combining the yeasty vibrancy of folk art, Pop Art slang, scavenged debris (including entire articles of clothing which are attached to the canvas), and the flashy illustrative style of Milton Glaser, Sam's work has the dusty, abandoned quality of a scuffed-up shoe left on the highway; at the same time, it feels extremely slick. Consequently, his characters--"Arizona Joe, Indian Scout," "Stagecoach Mary," "Fur Trapper George Bonga"--come off as quaint, slightly glamorous and not quite real.