Painter invites audience to ‘commune’ at the Dixon

Memphian Kaylyn Webster remembers visiting the Dixon Gallery and Gardens as a child. Soon, her own artwork will be on display there.

Her solo exhibition opens Sunday, Oct. 8 in the museum’s Mallory and Wurtzburger Galleries. “Commune [verb]” will be on view through Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

“It’s insane,” she said about having her art shown at the Dixon. “I don’t know if it’s even fully hit me yet, but it’s an honor to have my art up so fast. I just graduated. It’s reassuring (me) that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Webster graduated from Washington University in May 2022 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art and a concentration in painting. She minored in African and African American Studies.

Her visual-art education, though, began much earlier. Webster is also an alumna of Peabody Elementary, Colonial Middle and Overton High schools in Memphis. At Peabody, she took art classes; she was part of Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) programs at Colonial and Overton.

Webster’s exhibition will coincide with the Dixon’s upcoming “Black Artists in America: From Civil Rights to the Bicentennial” exhibition, which opens Sunday, Oct. 22. That exhibition is the second in a series of three.

The Dixon paired the first “Black Artists in America” exhibition with a showing featuring Mississippi-native and long-time LeMoyne-Owen College art professor Phillip R. Dotson, in 2021.

“(Dotson is) a late career artist,” Julie Pierotti, the Dixon’s Martha R. Robinson curator, said. “We knew we wanted to show a young, emerging artist (in conjunction with the second ‘Black Artists in America’ exhibition). … With all the paintings in that show, I knew we wanted a painter.”

Webster’s family and friends comprise the majority of paintings in “Commune.”

Showcasing personal stories made sense to her. It also made sense, she said, to honor the people who inspired her to keep going.

“The majority of my work is about the Black experience,” Webster said. “I want to challenge the objectification of people of color. With painting it’s interesting because, of course, the painting itself is an object. But I want you as a viewer to feel like you know these people, regardless. I want it to feel like you know them through the painting and beyond it. I want my emotion towards them to be conveyed.”

Subject matter in “Commune” includes social gatherings, as well as individual and group portraits.

Webster painted many works in “Commune” with a combination of oil and acrylic. Gold foil and pumice gel create additional visible texture. Halos are a recurring motif in Webster’s portraits, both as a form of reverence and as a rebuke to how Black subjects are often portrayed in Western art.

In her process, Webster envisions an image — often inspired by a family event — takes photos, then pulls pieces from each photo and sketches an idea for a painting or drawing.

“The show, to me, is about narrative and connection,” Webster said. “Connections between the figures in the pieces, between viewers and the figures. I hope to inspire people to think about their personal connections outside of the show, later on.”

Special programming during “Commune” includes a noon artist lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 25 — part of the Dixon’s “Munch and Learn” series — and an evening reception on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Admission to the events, as well as the museum, is free.

“I’m really honored to show (Webster’s) work here, because I think she is at the beginning of what will be a really great art career,” Pierotti said. “I feel like we’re the lucky ones, showing her (art) at this really important stage.”

This article was originally published at “

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