Aaron Turner:
Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards

January 25 – March 4, 2021
Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery
Virtual Artist Talk: Thursday, February 18, 6pm

Collect Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards exhibition catalog, Contact Sheet 210

Light Work’s galleries are currently closed to the general public as part of our ongoing effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. We encourage patrons to visit our exhibitions and events online and to check out our catalog of artist videos.


Light Work will exhibit more than 20 works by Arkansas–based photographer Aaron Turner in its first main gallery show of 2021. Aaron Turner: Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards will be on view in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery from January 25 through March 4, 2021. Mary Lee Hodgens, associate director of Light Work, will moderate a virtual conversation and Q&A with Turner on Thursday, February 18 at 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST. 

In the solitude of the studio, the artist is never alone. Quite the contrary for Aaron Turner. Sidney Poitier, Martin Luther King, Marvin Gay, Frederick Douglas and others all move up and through the layers of cut paper and projections. The artist handles, arranges, touches both objects and beloved figures, seeking, listening, directing, and responding. Some of these juxtapositions seem random, fluid, almost falling through space, but this is precisely the process Turner invites us to witness.

Aaron Turner’s Arkansas delta community and family taught him to know and understand African American history, honor its heroes, and respect his elders. The simple and profound gift of this upbringing has allowed him to pursue the role of Black artist and activist in our culture with unapologetic, single-minded intensity. Turner is in many ways acknowledging, standing on, and building from this foundation in his work. With deep affinity for the formal qualities of black-and-white photography, Aaron Turner uses his large format camera and the alchemical darkroom process to move back and forth between abstraction, still life, collage, and appropriated archival images to literally take apart and then reconstruct his photographic images. The color black itself has a presence in this work—infinite, elegant, unknowable. Turner is also a painter; his use of large swaths of black is both a metaphor for race and related to abstraction and its emphasis on process, materials, and color itself as subject.

Besides his studio practice, Aaron Turner is a teacher, curator, writer, founder of the Center for Photographers of Color (CPoC) at the University of Arkansas, and host of the CPoC podcast. Active in the photo and contemporary art community, he often uses these platforms to discuss his primary muses: other Black artists and activists. Bring a pen and notebook, because Turner is a name dropper in the best sense and you will want to look up these painters, sculptors, photographers, athletes, and activists whom he reveres, some hallowed and some obscure (for now). His generosity reminds us of artists like Deborah Willis, Carrie Mae Weems, and Zanele Muholi, who all—understanding art and power—have made it their business to bring a community of artists along with them through the doorway and into the spotlight. He too arrives en masse: perhaps his greatest tribute to his elders in the Arkansas delta.

www.aaronturner.studio