Issues in African American Art mirror issues in African American life. One can’t help but notice the ever changing questions asked by each work of art in the exhibition Titled: 30 Americans at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. Where did we come from? African American Art is a metaphor of the African American experience. Mixed and varied influences by various cultural traditions, including those of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Where are we now? Traditional concepts of African American Art mirror the greater traditions of the United States Of America, which are rapid and ever changing due to the nature of a fast moving culture. Where are we going? It’s hard to separate the Popular Cultural influences on African American Art as it is hard to separate the influences on American life in general. This definition if personified in the photograph by Hank Willis Thomas Titled: Branded Head. Mr. Thomas speaks about how Modern American Slaves were branded as a sign of ownership and how decedents of Slaves brand themselves with Corporate Logos or Brand identity. When will we as African American people own more of our own voice on the Issues? As noted by the African American Scholar David Driskell, “We are either part of the problem or part of the solution”. The exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery takes on the overwhelming responsibility of telling a story that is long over-due. The exhibition also tries to start a conversation relative to being a part of a complex solution to issues embedded in the total African American cultural experience. Can’t we just be an American Artist? The answer to this ever plaguing question for African American Artist is found embedded in the history of the African American Civil Rights Movement. A movement that began with a defiant group of people whose ancestors were brought to this country to be the backbone of free labor during the height of the Age Of Agricultural. The answer came in this defining statement of the movement with Dr. King’s eloquent wish; “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tag Archives: African American
Robert H. Colescott, born August 26, 1925 and died June 4, 2009, was an American painter. He is known for satirical genre and crowd subjects, often conveying his exuberant, comical, or bitter reflections on being African-American. He studied with Fernand Léger in Paris. According to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Colescott was “the first African-American artist to represent the United States in a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1997.” According to Askart.com and Artcyclopedia.com, his work is in many major public collections, including (in addition to the Albright-Knox) those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
In his George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook, he re-imagined Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting of the Revolutionary War hero, putting Carver, a pioneering African American agricultural chemist, at the helm of a boat loaded with black cooks, maids, fishermen and minstrels. With equally transgressive humor and an explosive style, he also created his own versions of Vincent van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Édouard Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe.
Colescott was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in Europe until the end of World War II. His tour of duty took him to Paris, then the capital of the art world and a city that was hospitable to African American artists. Back home, he enrolled at UC Berkeley, which granted him a bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting in 1949. He spent the following year in Paris, studying with French artist Fernand Léger, then returned to UC Berkeley, earning a master’s degree in 1952.
Colescott moved to the Northwest after graduation and began teaching at Portland State University. He was on staff there from 1957 to 1966. But he had a life-changing experience in 1964 when he took a sabbatical with a study grant from the American Research Center in Cairo, Egypt. He returned to Portland for a year but went back to Egypt as a visiting professor at the American University of Cairo from 1966 to 1967. When war broke out, he and his family (then-wife Sally Dennett and their son Dennett Colescott, born in Portland, Oregon in 1963) moved to Paris for three years. They returned to California in 1970 and he spent the next 15 years painting and teaching art at Cal State, Stanislaus, UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute. Colescott accepted a position as a visiting professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1983 and joined the staff in 1985, moving up the academic ladder until 1998, when he became a professor emeritus.
Joseph Osborne Social Curator
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“I am not a black artist, I am an artist”.
Was Jean – Michel Basquiat the messenger of the sacred and profane?
Black Identities in American Art an exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery
presents an opportunity to contemplate the question that seemed to plaque Jean – Michel Basquiat regarding Art and Black identities in American Art. With our American history in skin color being a object of oppression we are compelled to ask, can any artist of color exist in America, as Jean – Michel was quoted as saying, “I am not a black artist, I am an artist“. Can one be one without the other? Some might say, why is this a question of relevance? Well the truth is it isn’t, however in America one can’t have skin color like Jean – Michel and not be Black Identified. What is Black Identified? I would venture to say, an identity linked to a history of American Black Slavery. With that said, Jean – Michel could have identified more with the universal soul of the sacred. Or was he just high on some combination of drugs that takes one to a place of profane illusion? Our questions could go on and on, however the fact is Jean – Michel’s massive body of Art works is compelling to say the least.
Most often, the mention of Jean – Michel’s name compels us to contemplate the word – tragedy. Is it tragedy that accompanies greatness in Art or greatness in Art that accompanies tragedy. Either way most would not want to go to a tragic level for the sake of being great. However, how is it that so many of our great Artist are paired with what we most often think of as tragedy. Is it the tragedy that aides their mystique? Is it the tragedy that drives up the prices?
Joseph Osborne Social Curator
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“I was seeing images that were all too familiar. It was black people in a state of life-or-death desperation, and everything corporeal was coming to the surface: water, excrement, sewage. It was a re-inscription of all the stereotypes about the black body.”
Kara Walker speaks of her work as being about the unexpected. How can we be the hero/heroine yet want to kill the hero/heroine at the same time? Is this the American dilemma we find ourselves in? We are all connected, yet we focus on our differences and differentiators. Kara Walker exploits the push and pull of the American wound, our modern slavery history, that is alive and played out in our everyday 21st century lives. What are the messages, both hidden and obvious, that we can glean valuable information from, as we navigate our daily lives. Are we more comfortable not directly confronting the subject, which her silhouette allows us to do or do we have the courage to face the subject head on? Kara Walker challenges us to contemplate these questions.
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California. Her retired father [Larry Walker] is a formally educated artist, a professor, and an administrator. Her mother [Gwen Walker] worked as an administrative assistant and was inspired by her family to reveal her own artistic talents.
Kara Walker’s silhouette images work to bridge unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South, raising identity and gender issues for African American women in particular. However, because of her confrontational approach to the topic, Walker’s artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art during the 1960s (indeed, Walker says she adored Warhol growing up as a child). Her nightmarish yet fantastical images incorporate a cinematic feel. Walker uses images from historical textbooks to show how African American slaves were depicted during Antebellum South. Some of her images are grotesque, for example, in The Battle of Atlanta, a white man, presumably a Southern soldier, is raping a black girl while her brother watches in shock, a white child is about to insert his sword into a nearly-lynched black woman’s vagina, and a male black slave rains tears all over an adolescent white boy.
In 1997, Kara Walker—who was 28 at the time—was one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship. There was a lot of criticism because of her fame at such a young age and the fact that her art was most popular within the white community.
Joseph Osborne Social Curator
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“Where’s your negro statement”
Kehinde Wiley is inspired by European traditionalist portraits by painters such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian and Ingres to name a few. Wiley, often will show the person that is sitting for him a collection of images of paintings he has chosen. In this approach, he involves the sitter in the creative process. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, described his work in the following: “Kehinde Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.”
Born in South Central Los Angeles, Wiley takes his inspiration from what he sees on the streets. His portraits, often are inspired with young urban men from streets of New York and LA. Wiley’s unique style often blurs the lines between traditional and contemporary presentations. His references to Old Dutch Masters, French Rococo and Islamic Moorish influences combined with West African Textiles and American Urban Hip-Hop all merged into larger than life grandeur.