Loverules: Hank Willis Thomas
by David Molesky
Hank Willis Thomas — Loverules, installation of sequenced neon lights | Downtown Raleigh, NC, 2020
Unveiled on October 2nd in the Warehouse District in Raleigh, NC a neon sign consisting of 6 foot 6 inch letters spells out LOVERULES and blinks a sequence of words:
LOVERULES, LOVERULES; LOVERULES, LOVERULES, LOVERULES; LOVERULES.
LOVERULES, a work originally conceived in 2018, is derived from a phrase that Hank Willis Thomas’s cousin Songha Willis spoke in a recorded message before he was fatally shot in 2000 outside of a club in Philadelphia. This extremely challenging personal event initiated the metamorphosis of Thomas’s mature work and the powerful intentions behind it.
“When I received the opportunity to create a public art installation,” Thomas said, “I thought about him [Songha] and how his last words could inspire people every day, reminding them to be generous. Love is a verb of action…not an action of receiving, but an action of giving. My question is: What do you do to give love? How is love breaking the rules you have in your life?”
On an external wall at 302 S. West Street, the neon sign blinks its message of love as it faces toward Union Station. LOVERULES in downtown Raleigh is the result of a collaboration between the artist, Jack Shainman gallery, and ArtSuite. Fabricated this past summer specifically for this project, the sign is the third installation of the piece that exists as an edition of three, with one version being in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum and the second on loan and currently displayed on the exterior entrance wall to the Portland Museum of Art.
The actualization of this installation in Raleigh is a great achievement and its message serves as a generous gift to the community, which Thomas has acknowledged is “extremely important in this moment of critical racial and political upheaval.” Thomas adds that, “Public art, like LOVERULES, has the power to wake people up and remind people what matters.”
“The message of the power of love is incredibly important right now,” reflects Artsuite co-founder Marjorie Hodges. “I have known Hank for years, and have been looking for the right place and time to bring his work to the city I love.” Hodges together with co-founder Allen Thomas, Jr. recently launched Artsuite, an arts advocacy group that incorporates Artists, Collectors, and Public Projects all on one platform. The new organization to bring communities together and to advocate for and support artists. In addition to making art more visible in the public spheres, Artsuite has built a robust online platform showcasing the work and stories of artists from around the world. ArtSuite aims to grow a diverse and inclusive community of artists and art lovers through exhibitions both virtual and tangible in North Carolina and beyond.
“We are delighted to launch Artsuite with Love Over Rules, especially at this time,” Allen Thomas Jr. says. “Art has a unique ability to both provoke and encourage. We believe the most effective way to support working artists is to showcase and share their art, and to encourage the world to engage with it. We are grateful to Hank and to the Jack Shainman Gallery for making this inaugural installation possible.”
Throughout the year Artsuite will highlight Hank Willis Thomas’ work and support related programs in North Carolina including the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Nasher Museum of Art, the Mint Museum, CAM Raleigh, VAE, Artspace, Anchorlight and more. Organized events and programming will be scheduled when COVID restrictions are eased and social gatherings permitted.
The work, which will be on display for the next nine months, coincides with the launch of the Wide Awakes‘s public call to action in advance of November’s election—an outgrowth of Thomas’s practice and his collaborative, For Freedoms.