Inman Gallery is pleased to present a selection of significant early photographic work (2003–2006) by New York based artist Demetrius Oliver (b. 1975, Brooklyn, NY). Begun while the artist was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with artist Terry Adkins (1953–2014), most of the work was completed during his two-year Core Residency at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Oliver credits Adkins with shaping his deep interest in exploring commonplace materials and the layers of associations that can be activated using them. After graduating from Penn, Oliver went on to create three works in collaboration with Adkins.
Oliver began his studies as a painter but gravitated towards photography because for him, it allowed for the conflation of sculpture, performance, and painting. Furthermore, the rapid process lent itself to his exploration of materials. The deeply sculptural qualities of the photographic images also foreground the artist’s later work.
Inspired by Transcendentalist writers, particularly Walt Whitman, the work images the artist’s own body while breaking from the current identity-driven cultural narrative. The parts that comprise Oliver’s performative photographs are his own limbs, feet, head, hands, etc., which in division approach an every-man status. Ralph Waldo Emerson provides insight: “We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE” (The Over-Soul, 1841).
Despite their strongly graphic qualities, Oliver’s early works resist quick interpretation and retain a compelling mystery. They encourage a generous reading and an active collaboration between the author and the viewer.
Many of these works were included in important exhibitions such as Frequency (The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2005-2006), and have been collected by institutions such as The Studio Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin. A work from this series was recently on view in the expansive group exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia.