ON the surface, Charles Dickson and Dominique Moody appear to have much in common. Both are distinguished local African American artists who have persevered through potentially debilitating health problems. Both are storytellers -- the soul of folk art -- who have a love of found objects, which they often incorporate into their art.
And in celebration of Black History Month, both are featured in the Craft and Folk Art Museum's exhibition "Free Spirits: The Art of Charles Dickson & Dominique Moody."
As with most things, however, appearances can be deceiving.
"Aesthetically, Charles' and Dominique's works speak to people on completely different levels," says CAFAM director Maryna Hrushetska, who selected Dickson and Moody for the exhibition after conducting a series of studio visits last summer in the African American arts community.
"Dominique's work is very exact and very precise in nature, and she focuses on her personal tribe, while Charles' work is more organic, and he is influenced more by his ancestors, a term he uses with a broad brush."
As an example, she cites Dickson's "Bongo Congo: Mobilization of the Spirit," a complex, three-dimensional transport vehicle. The chariot-like meld of metal, wood and other organic materials is led by a clenched fist ("the spirit that goes before us and protects us") holding an umbrella that represents the heavens and the spiritual world.
"At first glance, [Dickson's art] seems very whimsical, but the more you spend time with it, the more you can see the wisdom in the work," says Hrushetska, who is also overseeing a second, smaller Black History Month exhibition, "Serving the Lwas: Vodou Gods of Haiti." "His work is so free flowing, and there's a collective consciousness of who we are and where we come from, and how there is a similarity in our experiences."
In contrast, she references Moody's "Mother Home," one of a series of family portraits that incorporates photographs of Moody's mother, a wooden washboard and maps, which are representative of the 67 cities her 75-year-old mother once called home.
"Dominique is such an archivist of her own life, her identity and her feelings," Hrushetska says. "Every single item on her works tells a story, and she wants to make sure those stories are not lost."
That Dickson and Moody have different approaches to their art and storytelling comes as no surprise given their vastly divergent backgrounds.
Dickson was born in South Los Angeles 59 years ago, and for the last 30 years, he's lived in -- and rarely strayed far from -- his Compton studio, a converted warehouse, which, like his art, is a constant work in progress.
His longevity in the community led directly to his winning a commission to create a memorial in honor of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a Watts shopping center. The 14-foot bronze and concrete sculpture, which was unveiled in 1992, features a 1,200-pound bronze hand releasing a hummingbird into flight.
Dickson's work has since appeared at the Watts Tower Arts Center and the California African American Museum. He has also managed to work through three serious hospital stays over the course of 6 1/2 years -- the result of inhaling toxic lacquer-thinner fumes and African Blackwood dust.
In regard to his pieces in the "Free Spirits" exhibition, Dickson says he hopes that viewers will find some element that provides an emotional touchstone and that if the viewer happens to be a woman, she will find some personal satisfaction in one of the many female forms, whether delicately carved from wood or molded out of plastic.
"There are not a lot of figures of black women being done, so it's important for me to capture the female form, relate it to the African American female and for her to be able to say, 'That looks like me,' " Dickson says. "When I grew up, black women were considered ugly, even to themselves, but the fact that these forms are now being shown in museums helps validate their self-image."
In contrast with Dickson, Moody was born in Germany and is in the midst of a move that marks her 43rd in 49 years.
Whereas Dickson spent much of his life among other African Americans, Moody was often thrust into communities, like the predominantly Jewish elementary school she was bused into, where she was seen as an intruder. Nonetheless, she managed to flow through the early part of her life using her creative endeavors as a language to bridge the cultural divides.
THEN everything changed when, at age 28, she was stricken with a form of juvenile macular degeneration, a genetically based eye condition that caused a continuing reduction in her central vision. Now legally blind, she has very little depth of field and sees faces as ghostly outlines missing personal details such as eyes, noses and mouths.
She says the condition turned out to be a curse and a blessing. It provided a "fast hard kick" that ultimately helped propel her art career.