- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

Heat, what heat? Midweek temperatures didn’t stop local partygoers from their celebrations, including those on hand for Wednesday’s afternoon reception for Art Expo Artists, a kickoff event for the National Urban League Conference, taking place through Sunday at the Washington Convention Center.

Without a doubt, the star attraction was the presence of Silver Spring resident Simmie Knox, 69, the first black artist to paint an official presidential portrait. Five of his works were on view along with those by 15 younger artists for whom he is something of a mentor.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose portrait he had completed some years earlier, recommended Mr. Knox to President Clinton. He completed the president’s likeness several years ago (“I think it is in the main lobby,” he said) and did one of then first lady and now Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well. The two works were unveiled in the East Room in June last year.

Serinity Knight, 37, a Howard University graduate student whose sculpture is in the show, called Mr. Knox “a sweet soul” and said he was an example of how “If you are working with passion and purpose, life rewards you. You’re not worried [then] about whether you are going to make it.”

Praise was showered on other artists, as well.

“Here is the beginning, middle and the end [of a career range],” said artist and curator Carmen Torruella-Quander, as she introduced Rafael Mora, a 17-year-old graduate of the city’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts who will attend New York’s Pratt Institute School of Art and Design this fall. “This is the man of the hour,” Miss Torruella-Quander said, noting the young man’s status as a first-time exhibitor.

Works on sale for the show, sponsored by Nielsen Media Research, range from $100 to $4,300; the latter sum is for a portrait of jazz legend Miles Davis by Mr. Knox, a former teacher at the Ellington School whose oil portraits can easily command five figures.

“I don’t know anything about art. I have done some painting by numbers,” confessed Maudine R. Cooper, president of the Greater Washington Urban League, of her own efforts. On Wednesday, she was eyeing the works on the wall but not yet committing herself as a buyer.

Mr. Knox is a graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and has specialized in portraiture for the past 24 years. Current subjects include some local judges as well as a portrait of Oprah Winfrey — for Morehouse College — and another of the late D.C. Council member John Wilson for the District’s Wilson Building.

Ann Geracimos

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