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Boxer, entertainer, activist and undisputed champion Muhammad Ali is being celebrated by artists from across the nation at Oak Park’s Evolve the Gallery, with 24 works of art on display through Jan. 28 to celebrate the boxing legend’s 70th birthday, which falls on Jan. 17.
“Every piece except for three was created specifically for this show,” said Evolve the Gallery co-owner A. Michelle Blakeley.
Blakeley and her husband, Brady Blakeley, put the call out to artists in August, and Brady Blakeley selected those who now appear in the show, titled “Ali: The Greatest.”
“From 1960 to 1981, Ali won 56 of 61 matches, 37 by knockout,” A. Michelle Blakeley wrote in a press release. She added that the boxer was also an important social activist, philanthropist and humanitarian.
Michelle Blakeley said the turnout from artists was strong, but not unexpected, with about 20 taking part.
“Who wouldn’t want to paint Muhammad Ali?” she asked. “A lot of these artists are huge fans, and they were excited to honor him on his 70th birthday.”
The works on display are mostly paintings, though some are mixed media, and one is a jacket hanging in the front window, painted with images and quotes of Ali.
Five Northern California artists have pieces in the show, including Sacramento resident Gerry “Gos” Simpson.
“The piece I have created is of acrylic paint, enamel pens and gold leaf,” Simpson said. “What I tried to depict was the entertainment side of Muhammad Ali. I knew everybody else was going to focus on the sport, so I included circles that, for me, represent the spotlight and the color in his personality.”
(Image by: Brandon Darnell)
The chance to pay homage to Ali was an honor, Simpson said.
“I knew it was going to be amazing, and it’s also the chance to celebrate someone who, as a kid, I watched and was amazed by his ability to see who he was, what he wanted and to be able to do what he did.”
Simpson said that the African American art community can often be insular, focusing on themes or traditions that tend to appeal most to other African Americans, but that is not the case with the current show.
“Muhammad Ali attracted people from all over the world,” Simpson said. “This show is a great show to have in Oak Park because it brings people together from all different cultures.”
A. Michelle Blakeley said the inspiration for the show came from a conversation in August among friends that eventually turned to boxing.
“We’re huge boxing fans, and I thought, ‘I wonder if Muhammad Ali has a major birthday coming up,’ ” she said.
With the show attracting artists from as far away as Georgia, it will travel to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and possibly San Francisco once it finishes its run in Sacramento, she said.
The opening reception will be held Saturday from 6 - 10 p.m. at Evolve the Gallery, 2907 35th St. The show can be viewed anytime Thursday through Saturday by calling 572-5123.
“We say, ‘by appointment,’ but it’s just to make sure we’re here and haven’t stepped out,” she said.
Next month’s show at Evolve the Gallery, which opens Feb. 4, celebrates Black History Month with a series of spiritually uplifting works of art, and the gallery will be open on Sunday afternoons for those who want to drop by after church, Blakeley said.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.