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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | SOUL MAN
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The Painting Pastor

October 18, 1998|Emory Holmes II

The Triangular Church of Religious Science sits hard by the Western Avenue exit of the Santa Monica Freeway, a few steps to the north and a few more back from the sidewalk. It is an elegant building, but almost unnoticeable amid the disorder and cacophony of the neighborhood. Founded in 1932 by the strong-willed visionary Pearl C. Woods, this was the first black interdenominational congregation in Los Angeles and an early sponsor of home care for shut-ins and the infirm. A lively amalgam of Roman Catholic, African ritual and Holiness religious traditions, the Triangular Church of Truth, as it was then called, boasted a flock of 1,000 members, augmented by jazz great Fats Waller and other celebrity guests.

Leadership of the church has recently fallen to one of its most unlikely disciples--"funkceptional" artist and sculptor Greg Pitts, also a grandson of the late Woods, who took over when his father retired in June. Known for his highly political, racially charged, "funky"--as he puts it--art installations, sculpture and essays, Pitts got his start back at Dorsey High. There he was inspired by older classmate Timothy Washington, now among L.A.'s most eccentric and distinguished painter-sculptors. "The brother was bad," Pitts says.

Pitts' work, which has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem, among other institutions, encompasses racial and political imagery, visual puns and Afro-centric symbolism and themes. It's often misunderstood. As an undergrad at Cal State Long Beach, he recalls, "a lot of white instructors told me my art was too black; and some black folks told me my art was too white."

It took a while, Pitts says, for him to warm up to the family legacy. "I went kicking and screaming into the ministry. I said, 'Oh, noooo, not me.' But then I realized I had reached the point in my growth as an artist where the next step was an investigation into things spiritual." These days, he sees his vocation as an ordained minister and his avocation as an artist (who now goes by the name Masud Kordofan) as complementary pursuits: "Most African art is ceremonial and religious and speaks to something above and beyond the physical." An artist's duty, Pitts asserts, is to represent a community's aspirations and goals and offer a vision for the future. "That's also what a pastor does--makes order out of chaos."

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