In a pluralistic art world, fine art is where you find it, be it at a gallery exhibition, on an interactive Web site or in a handmade artist's book.
Brian Pinkney's imaginative illustrations for children's books are also fine art, as a charming exhibition at the Walters Art Museum that opens Saturday amply attests.
Pinkney's whimsical portrayals of historical figures such as Duke Ellington, fairy-tale personages such as Cinderella and impressions of African-American characters in original works of fiction have won him wide acclaim for their vibrant sense of color and movement.
Pinkney applies a layer of black ink to a white board, then scrapes away the ink on the surface to form the outlines of his picture. Then he colors the image using oil paint, gouache or luminous dyes.
Pinkney's highly original technique is well suited for capturing the immediacy of his subjects. The exhibition presents illustrations from six books Pinkney executed between 1994 and 1998: Max Found Two Sticks, The Faithful Friend, Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy, The Adventures of Sparrowboy, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra and Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella.
Pinkney has called his art "rhythm on paper," and his images have the graceful, unhurried musical character of a cool jazz riff or blues improvisation.
"I want to feel accountable for my illustrations," Pinkney has said. "I want to put forth positive images of African-American people in portraits that are truthful and beautiful."
In this quest, the artist very much follows in the footsteps of his father, illustrator Jerry Pinkney, whose original watercolors expressing the richness of African-American culture and experience were the subject of a well-received exhibition at the Walters last spring.
The current Pinkney show is a fitting counterpoint to the museum's magnificent exhibition of 19th-century landscape paintings of Grafton Tyler Brown, which also opens Saturday.
Brown (1841-1918) was a Pennsylvania native who, in the early 1880s, became the first African-American artist to paint the Pacific Northwest. He recorded stunning vistas in California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia during the decade and a half that led up to the final closing of the American frontier.
See more of Pinkney's work at www.baltimoresun.com/Pinkney.
"Rhythm on Paper: The Illustrations of Brian Pinkney" continues at the Walters through May 30. The museum is at 600 N. Charles St. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors and $5 students. Call 410-547-9000.
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