School of Art Gallery puts paintings created to jazz on display

Sarah Lack

Kent State alumnus and well-known abstract artist, Al Bright, is the subject of a solo exhibition at the School of Art Gallery that runs through Nov. 19.

The exhibition, “Al Bright: Abstract Jazz/Classical Works,” consists of paintings created to music. Bright is known for painting alongside jazz and classical musicians during live shows, a kind of performance art that captures the nature of the music in the painting. Bright’s own spontaneous and emotional form of abstract expressionism ties visual art to music.

In addition to the paintings themselves, the exhibition includes a video of Bright painting before a live audience alongside Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers at the Youngstown Playhouse in 1983. This performance was the result of Bright receiving the Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship in 1980.

Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in art education from Youngstown State University, and a Master of Arts in painting from Kent State. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art at Youngstown State University, where he has taught for 45 years.

Bright has produced more than 100 one-man exhibitions across the country. This exhibit, which includes paintings in homage to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, displays works from 1975 to 2000. Several of the paintings are on loan from private collections.

“I want my work to reach out, to regenerate our cells, our hopes, our failures, our pain,” Bright explained in a recent artist talk at the School of Art Gallery. “My mission is simple. I claim nothing special about this except that I have been able to survive all the rejection, all the things that have been slammed up against me.”

Born in 1940, Bright grew up in Youngstown in one of the country’s oldest housing projects. He planned on going to barber school after graduating high school, but his involvement in Junior Achievement pushed him to focus on attending college instead.

Bright was the first in his family to receive a formal education. He went on to see success as both an educator and artist, serving a five-year governor’s appointment to the Ohio Arts Council, and becoming a member of both the National Humanities Faculty and the Congressional Braintrust on Arts and Humanities.

Despite his success, Bright maintains clarity on the most important things in his life, even tearing up during an emotional moment in his talk.

“I have a beautiful family, a beautiful wife, a beautiful life,” he said. “I want my work to express how happy I am to come through the struggles I’ve had in my life.”

You can contact Sarah Lack at [email protected].