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Al Loving, 69; African American Abstract Artist Worked in Many Forms

July 09, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Al Loving, an innovative abstract artist whose work evolved from geometric paintings to colorful collages and murals, has died. He was 69.

Loving died June 21 in New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of lung cancer.

The artist burst onto the abstract art scene as vibrantly as one of his paintings in 1969, when he was given a solo exhibition at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art -- a year after moving to New York from his native Detroit to establish himself as an artist.

The show and his work proved a breakthrough, demonstrating that African Americans could hold their own in the abstract genre at a time when they were under public pressure to produce figurative art describing the black experience.

Loving soon became what one reviewer called "probably the leading figure in the hot African American Abstraction movement."

The versatile artist remained in the forefront until his death, as his art evolved from painting cubes on canvas to draping strips of cloth across galleries, to assembling fabric and cut paper and working with glass and clay.

"Loving is demonstrating clearly that African American artists need not be pigeonholed in social-political subject matter or figurative-narrative angst," a Seattle Times reviewer wrote earlier this year when his work was shown in Seattle.

As Loving developed a style traceable through his evolution -- emphasizing color and forms like the spiral to illustrate constant growth -- he never let his art become static. He moved surely from painting with brushes to stitching cloth to gluing corrugated cardboard and shaping glass, developing a singular genre he had recently described as "material abstraction."

Collage, he once told the Detroit Free Press, "has a wonderful ability to make a string of extreme things go together."

Loving's works are included in the permanent collections of the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Loving also created large commissioned public works, including a ceramic mural in one of Detroit's People Mover stations and another in the David Adamany Library at Wayne State University. In 1996, he created a collage painting for the Sacramento Convention Center, and in 2001 he completed a large mosaic wall with 70 stained-glass windows for Brooklyn's Broadway-East New York subway station.

Born Alvin Demar Loving Jr. on Sept. 19, 1935, in Detroit, Loving first began copying landscapes and watercolors under the tutelage of his father, a teacher and part-time sign painter. When the family spent a year in India, young Loving decided on a career in fine art rather than commercial art, which was considered more practical for blacks in that day.

He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Illinois and a master of fine arts from the University of Michigan.

Loving taught briefly at Eastern Michigan University before establishing his studio in New York in 1968.

He is survived by his wife, the former Mara Kearney; three children from earlier marriages, Alvin Demar Loving III of Long Beach, Alicia Loving of New York and Anne Bethel of Eleuthera, Bahamas; a brother, Paul of Detroit; a sister, Pamela Copeland of Flint, Mich.; and eight grandchildren. Another daughter, Lauri Hurd, died in 2001.

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