BY KATHY CHANG
EDISON — In the shock, pain and grief of learning that his brother, Sidney Garrick, was killed during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2000, Richmond Garrick was presented with a challenge.
Garrick was in the Master of Fine Arts program at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick at the time.
“It was hard not to reflect what had happened in my work,” he said.
His professors recognized that and presented Garrick with a challenge of how to present his work that was separate from the photographs of the war.
“Their challenge helped me express myself,” he said.
With his broad brushstrokes, Garrick captured the pain of the time in an abstract way.
The artwork depicting the 10 years of civil war in Sierra Leone as well as 13 prints of noted African and African-American luminaries are being exhibited in Garrick’s first solo show called “Noble Expressions” at Middlesex County College (MCC) celebrating Black History Month in February.
The exhibit opened on Feb 2 in the Studio Theatre Gallery at the college in Edison. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.
Garrick is a 1996 graduate of Middlesex County College and a native of Sierra Leone.
Garrick uses ball point pen as his medium in the 13 prints of President Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, Louis Armstrong, Ida B. Wells, Ray Charles, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas and Maya Angelou.
“I was inspired to do these drawings from my daughter’s school assignment on civil rights leaders,” said Garrick. “I started these around 2000 to start a collection.”
Garrick said the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and Malcolm X have been painted so many times before.
“I chose the ball point pen because of the simplicity of the medium,” he said. “Martin Luther King Jr. never wanted to be recognized for his Nobel Peace Prize, but for what he cared about and that was humanity.”
Garrick said his art can be captured in his favorite quote from MLK — “If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.”
After the exhibit concludes, Garrick is donating the 13 portraits to the college, which will house them permanently in West Hall, the new enrollment services building.
“I love all of the portraits, but I revere Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, the late President Nelson Mandela, Frederick Douglass, Ida Wells, the great writer, and Rosa Parks,” said Garrick. “They are all inspirational. My decision to donate the prints to the college is in deep gratitude for the nurturing and support I received from such an esteemed institution.”
College President Joann La Perla-Morales, Dorothy Bitetto, president of MCC’s Alumni Association, and Latoya Caroo, manager of MCC’s Alumni Engagement & Annual Giving, welcomed Garrick’s solo exhibit.
“We are delighted to have an outstanding alumni artist sharing his incredible gifts with the college and the community at large,” said La Perla-Morales.
Caroo said Garrick’s exhibit is not only raw and powerful, but his work reflects the resilience and determination of a country in turmoil.
“He transferred his complex life to canvas that tells an emotional story,” she said.
Garrick is a teacher at Williamstown High School in the Williamstown section of Monroe Township, Gloucester County. He is also a visiting professor at Devry University. He previously served as an adjunct and part-time professor at both Rutgers University and MCC.
He has exhibited his paintings and drawings in numerous museums and galleries and has won numerous awards including the Alumnus of the Year Award from Middlesex County College in 2011.
Garrick’s art exhibit kicked off MCC’s Black History month events, which also included a portrayal of Sojourner Truth and the showing of “Southside with You” chronicling the first date between future President Barack Obama and future First Lady Michelle Obama.
On Feb. 23, author Hayes Davis will examine his life as a son, father and artist while illuminating topics of racial identity and the plight of other black men.
The month concludes with a lecture by Daniel Jean called Black History in the Making on Feb. 27.
For more information visit www.middlesexcc.edu.