Luther Vann wants his "Songs of My People" exhibit to invoke the viewer's imagination.
Fifteen of Vann's pieces will be featured at the opening of Penn Center's 29th Heritage Days Celebration at the York W. Bailey Museum, St. Helena Island.
Vann hopes his intensely colored acrylic works on canvas will speak for themselves.
"What I am ultimately wanting is for people to jump in there and use their imagination and use their minds," he said. "I want people to get in there and trust themselves. ... We have become a society where if we don't see it in the newspaper or on television, we don't know it."
"We need people to tell us how to do things. I want people to jump in there and experience (my art) for themselves," Vann said of his colorful, three-dimension acrylics on canvas.
Although Vann was born in Savannah in 1937, he grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in New York City, where his father played honky-tonk on the piano. Vann learned to tap dance and sing. By age 16, he said he was looking for jazz.
The influence of his work by Harlem Renaissance artists is evident. He was instructed by Charles Alston and many of the mid-20th century artists. In New York City, Vann studied at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research and at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Studio. He earned a first-place prize at the 1996 Georgia Arts Festival.
His Penn Center exhibit is a cross-tie between artists and musicians with whom Vann was raised and the history of the Gullah people who used songs to communicate across the plantations.
Much of his work has an ongoing theme of his adult view of the excitement of the people and happenings of Millen Street, where he now lives in his boyhood home. Until age 18, Vann returned each year to the big neighborhood block parties on the street. "When I came back it was like re- introducing myself into the environment -- a celebration," Vann said. "A lot of my work features those images of my neighbors and people who impress me. It is beautiful."
Vann once used chopsticks on a series of work.
"I used the chopsticks for fun and I was being very arrogant," Vann said. "I had not painted in a long time. I felt, 'Well, I don't need a brush anymore.' I felt I had done all I could accomplish with a brush."
Currently, he has reincorporated the brushes with the chopsticks as well as other media he preferred not to disclose.
Vann's work also includes intense creations of computer collages, photography and sculpture. He describes his subjects as "layered ideas, layered emotions, visions and dreams."
As for his favorite works: "Painting is serious at the time of production," Vann said. "Later I can have fun looking back and enjoying what I did." And that's what he's planning on doing Friday -- looking back.
Vann's exhibit that brings New York and Gullah together opens at 5:30 p.m. Friday, just in time for Penn Center's Heritage Days.
Vann is the recipient of numerous grants from the New York State Council for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Georgia Council for the Arts.