‘Della Wells: Mambo Land’ on View at Andrew Edlin Gallery




Della Wells: Mambo Land on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery

It was in 2019 at the Outsider Art Fair,  that we were introduced to the work of Della Wells, and her equally talented friend, Rosemary Ollison.  Since that time, we have followed both artists on social media, hoping one or both would return to New York. Today we were fortunate enough to catch Della Wells: Mambo Land. This is the second solo exhibition for Della Wells (b. 1951) at Andrew Edlin Gallery in the Bowery.

Della Wells: Mambo Land on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery

Technically self-taught, Wells is inspired by the collages of Matisse, Romare Bearden, and fellow Milwaukee artist Beverly Nunes Ramsay. Her work reflects a visual idiom that art historian Patricia Hills identifies as uniquely American, as seen in the patch-work wallpaper of magazine and newspaper clippings that appeared across homes of the American South, as well as in the cubist collages of Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. Wells began making art in earnest at age forty-two, processing stories that she felt compelled to share and using them as foundations for her own collages. In the process, she conjured up the contours and characters of Mambo Land, a world where “Black women rule.”

Della Wells: Mambo Land on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery

In the roughly two dozen new works in Mambo Land, women metamorphose, flowers sprouting forth from their heads like locks of hair. They live in grand homes, fantastical Milwaukee mansions; they wave American flags for a country that cares about them, where promises of freedom and opportunity are held sacred. The artist knows well the chasm between idealism and reality and chooses to focus on what can be salvaged when circumstances are confronted.

Installation view, Della Wells: Mambo Land on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery

In Let’s Move on Little Sis, Wells’ ever-present chicken, a memento mori from childhood, sits placidly on a straight-back chair labeled “M♡M.” The chicken is always watching, or quietly striding along, never too far behind, with a flag hanging from its beak. In Seeking My Summer Song, it pokes its head over a fence, looking warily at the woman in the foreground, who herself gazes into the distance, where two signs read: FUTURE. TAKE CARE.

Della Wells: Mambo Land on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery

True to her folk-art influences, Wells improvises with materials that are readily at hand. Her kinetic tableaux reveal a world that has been flattened, yet still possesses a vibrant, rumpled surface. She transforms reality into fable, melding together images, each one of which is a distinct token of her heritage. Collectively they serve as threads that embroider life in Mambo Land.

Della Wells: Mambo Land will be on view to July 19, 2024 at Andrew Edlin Gallery, 212 Bowery, NYC.

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