Torrey Johnson stood outside the small building, looked up at the sign and walked in for some gumbo. The minute he entered, he knew he couldn’t get a cup of gumbo, but he also knew he was supposed to be there. Gumbo Gallery owner Sonja Griffin Evans welcomed him and asked if he painted. Though he hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in nearly twenty years, the unexpected venture inside her art gallery has him painting again. That’s quite a switch from his day job as security chief at a prison.
The current exhibit of Johnson’s work at Pensacola’s Gumbo Gallery is an exclusive. Johnson describes Evans as his mentor, and his work “inspired by black women and their trials and tribulations.” He, like Evans, paints in the Gullah cultural style featuring elongated, stylized African-American figures. The inspiration of his current series is women ranging from family members to musicians. One watercolor, Sit Still, illustrates his mother wrestling with the hair of his young sister as she tries to style it. My favorite, a 8 x 24 piece with bold composition, features the side view of a woman seated at a table, forehead in hand, and other arm reaching towards a book. The woman is surrounded by past due notices; there’s a calendar in the background and a cup of coffee in the foreground. The book, Johnson pointed out, is the Bible and the answer is right at her fingertips.
At my house, when we say “I’ve got a real hankering for gumbo,” we fret until we make a pot of gumbo. The message haunts us until we take action. Torrey Johnson had a real hankering for gumbo that day, too, and I’ll venture to say his actions changed his life, just as he can change the lives of many others with his art.
Gumbo Gallery http://www.gumboartgallery.com/