Celebrating Roosevelt “RIP” Woods

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RIP Woods in his studio as a young man (about 30)

By Ione Lewis

In celebration of Black History Month, we offer a tribute to the late Roosevelt “RIP” Woods, the acclaimed artist and ASU art professor (1933-2001).  During his lifetime, RIP Woods exhibited works in many Black History Month exhibitions, was a very influential artist in Phoenix and globally, and so he was the natural choice for the Central Arts District Blog’s celebratory artist for February.

The RIP Woods Studio Project (RWSP), founded in honor of RIP in 2013 by his daughter, Dee Dee Woods, our Featured Artisan for February/March 2017.  RWSP has had numerous shows celebrating RIP’s work and the works of other African-American artists.  His other daughter, Senina Woods-Harris, also helps with RWSP.  The purpose of RWSP  is to “honor and preserve the life, legacy and art of Rip Woods by offering hands-on learning, creative mentorship and access to educational resources through the Arts.”

Black History Month shows honored RIP at both the Tempe History Museum and ASU in 2014.

Here is the poster for the 2014 ASU show, with one of his most acclaimed paintings, The sweeter the juice:

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RIP was born in Oklahoma, but he came to the Phoenix area with his family when he was five.  Most of his higher education he got in Arizona.  Having graduated with an MA in Art Education from ASU in 1958, he taught drawing, painting and print making at ASU from 1965 to 1992, for 27 years. Dee Dee told me that he “also taught at Camelback and Alhambra.  He mentored , taught and influence thousands of artists of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.”  RIP became  Arizona State University Professor Emeritus Artist/Educator in 1992.  He remained a productive artist until his untimely transition in 2001.

Dee Dee told me that her father was “a very prolific and prominent African American artist  that affiliated with many of the Harlem Renaissance artists.  He was very close personal friends with Langston Hughes.  Woods work is part of permanent collections of several personal collectors , museums and galleries as well as exhibited in hundreds of galleries and museums, nationally and internationally.  RIP was the first Negro / Afro-American to have a one man show at the Phoenix Art Museum.  So needless to say Woods as been apart of/exhibited in countless Black History exhibitions through out his career… Someone asked him if he did black art, and he told them, ‘I am a black artists So all of my work is black art, whether or not it has imagery of black people or black things.'”

For Fatimah Halim’s fascinating Focus interview with Dee Dee describing her work, and RIP’s art and contributions to the arts community, go HERE. Dee Dee even talks about how RIP became a “best-seller” for Neiman-Marcus!  For a short video with interviews of fellow artists celebrating his life, go HERE and/or HERE.

Below are Tempe History Museum Black History exhibition photos. This was a duo-show of  RIP and Dee Dee.

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Here are photos from the ASU Black History Month exhibition:

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2014 Black History Month Exhibition at ASU

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Dee Dee, with the help of Senina, has curated his shows, and inspired other African-American Artists to show their works at RIP Woods Studio Project exhibitions. Over a dozen artists participated in this show:

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RIP was both artist and activist, and became one of the original co-founders of  Artists of the Black Community/Arizona.  His high school teacher, mentor, friend and cofounder, Dr. Eugene Grigsby describes how ABC/AZ began and gives a nice history of the development of the Black art community here in Arizona:

…Artists of the Black Community/Arizona, began in the mid 1970’s when Rip Woods and I called a meeting with several other Black artists at Helen Mason’s Black Theatre Troup’s building at 10th Street & Moreland, (A building demolished for the I-10 freeway). We discussed the need for Black artists to organize. We had been exhibiting in the annual Juneteenth event at Eastlake Park. Mrs. Coleman, who was largely responsible for reviving the Juneteenth Celebration asked Dr. Grigsby, then on the Juneteenth board, to put together an exhibit for the Juneteenth Celebration. A number of artists including Rip Woods, Earl Cooke, Clendolyn Corbin, Walter Venerable,  Erno, Larry Wilson, Alan Jones and several other artists responded. Each June a one day exhibit was held at Eastlake Park. Having to put up and take down an exhibit the same day became difficult. In order to extend the duration, we  asked Mike Fox, Director of the Heard Museum for space to exhibit longer than a day. He agreed and gave us two days. In 1980, as a member of the OIC Board, I suggested to Gene Blue that OIC should have an arts component that would enhance its mission to seek and prepare for its jobs component. Out of this came the OIC CEED program. Most of the artists became involved in the OIC CEED program head- ed by Gene Blue, (CEO of the Opportunities Industrialization Center). CEED was the acronym for Cultural, Economic, and Educational Development, concerned with economic development in all of the arts. Still without exhibit space, I went to Don Tostenrud, CEO of Arizona Bank, to request opportunity to exhibit in the Bank Galleria which is well known for the quality exhibits held there. Tostenrud not only offered space in the Galleria, but funded an exemplary catalog for the exhibit. A few years later COBA replaced CEED. COBA, The Consortium of Black Organizations & Others for the Arts was formed as an outgrowth of an Exhibit of African Art at the Heard Museum and a Symposium of African Art at ASU. COBA replaced CEED as both were concerned with similar objectives and with many of the same people. ABC/AZ became an affiliate of COBA and with the help of COBA expanded its exhibit schedule. When OIC opened the Jackson St.Studios, ABC/AZ occupied one of them. The Arizona Commission for the Arts recognized the quality of works by ABC/AZ artists and toured an exhibit  of our works for two years to colleges, museums and art centers in Arizona, Texas and Utah. The group has exhibited at most colleges and universities in Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale and Tucson.  Also at the West Valley Art Museum in Surprise  and The George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center in Phoenix (planned to be annual exhibits). Many of the original members have moved on but not forgotten… (2006)

In his Artist Statement, RIP says that his paintings “speak in part of being Black in America, and particularly in art, where opportunities for inclusion in the mainstream are limited and somewhat polarized.  I have tried to address these issues with both humor and guilt.  While my images are generally satirical some may find them offensive, by the way I’m having fun.” RIP’s joy is clear from his delightful paintings, lithographs, woodcuts and sculptures.

Dee Dee printed and sells a t-shirt in support of his Studio Project and we’ll leave you with that.

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For further information, see the RIP Woods Studio Project on Facebook, or Instagram.

Also check our Featured Artisan Page to learn more about the multi-talented Dee Dee Woods.

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Roosevelt “RIP” Woods

  1. cindyschnackel says:

    After years since graduating, he’s one of a handful of teachers I still remember well and am really glad to have met. He let us have a lot of freedom in his classes, as long as we delivered, on critique day.

    Like

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