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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Painter Creates Art From the 'Hood

October 23, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

Stare at the barrel of a 9-millimeter handgun pointed by the grim image of a gangbanger in ". . . Andblastin'back." Get caught in the cross-fire of "Red Reality, Blue Insanity," two paintings showing Bloods and Crips shooting at each other. Or sympathize with a weeping mother in "Momma: Receiving Bad News From Bad News."

These are some of the works of Romelle D'Minter, a 29-year-old South-Central Los Angeles artist inspired by the gang life around his neighborhood.

On exhibit through Nov. 13 at the Julie Rico Gallery in Santa Monica, D'Minter's "Something Wickedly Frightening" is a body of black-and-white multimedia paintings depicting "organized crime in the 'hood" in a style of art he calls "inner-city Expressionism."

"It's a reflection of a violent reality," said Rico, owner of the 2-year-old gallery on Main Street. "It's poetry from the community."

Likening D'Minter's works to the impact of Michelangelo's in the 16th Century, Rico said, "(Michelangelo) made (people) proud of their community for what it was; that's what (D'Minter) is doing. Amid the negativity surrounding him, he is able to articulate a language that is foreign to most communities."

D'Minter's language assaults viewers. The paintings, framed with his trademark black-iron anti-burglar bars, dramatize urban gang wars, helplessness and empowerment through violence. He simply paints what he sees, he said--the sense of isolation and persecution of people he grew up with and whom he has often seen die violently.

"The majority of my friends were either going to the cemetery or the penitentiary," D'Minter said. "I can't even count the number of friends who have died. I did a lot of my work in black and white because of the memories I had when I was a child. There was nothing colorful about it all--it was death."

In "For the Dead Homies," a young gangster is pouring Olde English malt liquor in the street while holding a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. The work depicts a gang ritual for when a friend is incarcerated or dies, D'Minter said.

D'Minter is breaking into the mainstream with exhibitions in small galleries across the city, embraced by a handful of Los Angeles patrons of non-traditional art.

"This is considered counter-fashion in the art world because its about real life," Rico said. "These individuals (captured on painting) are real. Good or bad, we as a society should accept that notion because society had failed them."

From the Arroyo Gallery in Pasadena to Gallery X in Hollywood to Zero 1 Gallery on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, D'Minter's work is being recognized as a legitimate form of art.

"This is as dark and underground as it gets. You've seen it in cinema and other media; this is just another form of expressing what's going on in their world," said Dave Klane, owner of Gallery X. "It's shocking and disturbing to a lot of people, and that's good."

From his bedroom-studio near 49th and Western, D'Minter conceptualized the idea of depicting a world of drugs and violence. He knows the street talk and walk, but he says he stayed out of gangs "because I was never into teams . . . blue fighting red."

D'Minter began experimenting with various forms of art in 1981. After he graduated from Chatsworth High School in the San Fernando Valley, he enrolled in Otis College of Art and Design for two years until he ran out of money.

Intrigued by Hollywood movies of organized crime from the '30s and '40s and the hardship that forced mobsters into criminal roles, D'Minter said the parallels with his culture were too obvious to pass up.

"When I looked around, I said 'This is going on around in my front yard,' " he said.

" 'Something Wickedly Frightening' is a revolutionary antidote to the problem," D'Minter said. "I'm not trying to glamorize (that lifestyle). I'm just painting what I see, so people can realize that it exists."

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