The selected paintings from paintings from Watkins are on display at the gallery, 18 East Blithedale Ave., #12, through December 22.
“This puts Mill Valley on the international art world map,” Lawson says.
Watkins’ career spans 40 years and more than 30 gallery and museum shows, including exhibits at the Asian Art Museum, The Tenderloin Museum and the University of California.
Watkins, who moved to San Francisco from Waco, Texas in 1957, initially supported himself playing billiards. After a stint in prison in the 1970s for possession of a firearm, he took up painting, which proved to be a life-changing event. Largely self-taught, Watkins has drawn over a 40-year career on themes of the African-American experience, notably the Bay Area community that migrated from the South during WWII to find work in the shipyards.
Watkins’ depiction of the people, places, and events that have touched his life has helped to reshape many of our commonly held narratives of Black America, while his straight-forward paint handling has helped bridge the gap between traditional Eurocentric narrative painting and more current expressive painting modes.
Lawson says Watkins has been described as “flipping the script,” both on traditionally held and white social hierarchies and on contemporary painting iconographies. Watkins’ exhibition history also includes a number of mural projects from San Francisco to Waco, where January 17th is officially designated as Ira Watkins Day in honor of his mural of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Watkins is currently artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point Shipyard.