Xavier Daniels: Cry Like A Man
November 18 – December 30, 2022
Xavier Daniels’s solo exhibition Cry Like a Man underscores the catharsis of vulnerability. On view at the Richard Beavers Gallery through December 30th, the eleven-work show is a catalyst for change. The title hones in on the artist’s personal experience as a Black male, conditioned to repress tears and feelings, struggling to express himself. Through this exhibition, Daniels hopes to start a conversation and to encourage Black men to break the cycle of emotional repression and share their feelings with people they trust.
The forty-two-year-old artist draws on his former career as a firefighter and his encounters with other Black men in major cities across the United States to overcome the stigma against emotional honesty. Heart on my Sleeve (2022), deeply rooted in color symbolism, sets the tone for the show itself. A rich blue symbolizes freedom and water, serving as a metaphor for tears, while the purple hues surrounding certain subjects evoke royalty and religion to evoke Black men as kings. Cool tones allow the artist to create his own narrative and show viewers who Black men truly are; the same applies to the white negative space in the works, which can serve as a symbol of purity and innocence.
The portraits are rife with cool tones and hints of warmer colors. At first glance, the viewer may pick up on the richness of the color brown—however, brown comprises at most fifty percent of any given work. Each painting features a specialized palette based on the message that Daniels hopes to convey. Colors are mixed from scratch, and their intensity is deepened through hints of yellow, red, or orange around his subjects’ ears. The juxtaposition of agitation and calm is apparent, highlighting that young men who learn to suppress their emotions generation after generation will begin to carry those feelings in their bodies instead. In this way, each color suggests a potential physical release.
Most subjects make eye contact with the viewer, contemplating whether they trust the person enough to reveal the most hidden parts of themselves. This is apparent in Fire Drill (2022), where two figures—one of them inverted—gaze at the viewer, negative white space masking their mouths. The composition came to Daniels in the middle of the night years prior, en route to an emergency firefighting call; the circling, pulsating effect of the lights and sirens of his firetruck proved so overwhelming in that moment that it seemed the whole world was at a standstill.
Wishing Well (2022), a painting with more blue than any other, showcases the freedom of not only the color but also the subject, whose eyes are closed and whose hair flows freely in a swath of implied wind. The figure, dressed in a vibrant blue hoodie and white pants, is dreaming; eyes closed, he’s hopeful, with the red in his fingertips pointing to a moment of enlightenment. Peace Offering (2022) reveals the relationship between two men. The space between the subjects serves as an implied third figure, according to certain viewers, and a mental health crisis to the artist. The two figures bond over the same issue—a void—and learn to deal with their shared trauma.
Paper Plane (2022) is a noteworthy composition that boasts compelling physical positioning, the subject’s body much like a paper plane. There is a moment of freedom here in the implication that the subject is on a playground and entrenched in a mental state of imagination or liberation. Multiple layers of paint bring richness to the subject’s black, near-purple sweater, depicting him as regal.
Promise (2022) and Trust (2022) form a diptych that highlights the relationship between two male figures who wish to trust and confide in each other. The subject in the former promises to keep the secret of the subject in the latter, and the two men have no choice but to trust one another. Once separated, these pendant portraits may be a metaphor for broken promises and trust. The thick, erratic brushstrokes reveal the risk involved in self-disclosure, and yet these men are optimistic. Sound Advice (2022) similarly illustrates the intimacy of two young Black men privately expressing their emotions and the effects of this overarching sense of trust on their bond.
The show culminates in release, with Headed Home (2022) founded in confidence and self-acceptance. Sigh of Relief (2022) represents the power of seeking help when needed; the near-yellow tones in the background suggest a new beginning during times of uncertainty. Cry Baby (2022), the final work—larger than any other painting at 96 by 72 inches—depicts a young Black man presenting an ostensibly strong façade. Despite his display of confidence, the subject is vulnerable, and the viewer must look up to see him in all his feigned glory. In this way, the viewer realizes that it is okay to cry like a baby and still be a man.