Exhibition of
AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS

At what point in your life and the civil rights movement do you visit this exhibit? What significant events have happened in your life so far? Making reference to details and elements of several paintings, which work or works are most and least aesthetically pleasing to you? How does knowing the biographies of each artist change or affect your opinion in any way?

Romare Bearden, 1914-1988
Although born in the South, Romare Bearden spent most of his life in New York City, where he developed an artistic reputation that probably surpasses any other modern African American artist. Over a long lifetime as an artist he experimented with different media and styles. He was, at different times, a social realist, a cubist, and an abstract expressionist. He is best known as a collagist, which often reflected his southern background, and always reflected his African American heritage.
Claude Clark, 1915-
Born in Georgia, Claude Clark has maintained his links to folk activity and his African American heritage. His paintings, such as "Slave Lynching," tend to be simple and direct, leading the viewer to see a direct and obvious statement that is often a commentary on society.
Aaron Douglas, 1899-1979
For almost thirty years Aaron Douglas was head of the Department of Art at Fisk University, influencing a great many students, including a number who were to become prominent African American artists. Prior to that tenure Douglas was the leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance, known especially for his striking murals in libraries and other public buildings. These murals usually depicted significant events and people in African American history. While his murals were usually two dimensional and almost geometrical, his portraits, such as this one of "Marian Anderson," were traditional and classical.
Clementine Hunter, 1887-1988
Clementine Hunter was a self-taught folk artist who began painting when she was over forty, after spending her life up to that point cooking and picking cotton at the Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Most of her paintings are flat, two-dimensional views of rural southern life -- an attempt to present an accurate picture as she saw it, rather than following any formula for success. She became one of the South's most important artists after her "discovery" in the 1950s.
William H. Johnson, 1901-1970
William H. Johnson experimented with a number of different styles during his lifetime, including expressionism and an unusual abstract style -- but many of his paintings and murals were done in a traditional style. And although he was not a true primitive painter, his religious paintings, such as "Mt. Calvery," reflected his interest in African and European primitive art.
Charles Wilbert White, 1918 - 1979
The African-American painter, lithographer, and teacher Charles Wilbert White was born in Chicago. He attended The Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York City. White taught at the George Washington Carver School in New York from 1943 to 1945 and was artist-in-residence at Howard University in Washington, DC, in 1945.

The artist executed several murals in various cities throughout the United States, many under the sponsorship of the WPA. His work shows the influence of the styles of the leading Mexican muralists, reflecting his study with David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera at the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico. In 1940 the Associated Negro Press commissioned a mural for the Chicago Public Library. He completed another at the Hampton Institute in Virginia in 1943 and, late in his career, at the Mary McLeod Bethune Library in Los Angeles.

 

Jacob Lawrence, 1917-
Jacob Lawrence gained early fame at 21, with his series of paintings on Toussaint l'Ouverture. Through his portraits of Black leaders (Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman), but primarily due to his series of paintings on "The Migration of the Negro," Lawrence became one of the best known American artists of this century. Usually using tempera, and preferring angular, simplified forms, his paintings often have the look of posters rather than paintings.

 

Alma Thomas, 1891 - 1978
Also known as Alma Woodsey Thomas
Born in Columbus, Georgia, Thomas was the eldest of four daughters. When she was fifteen, her family moved to Washington, D.C. In 1925 she began a thirty-five-year career teaching art at Shaw Junior High in Washington. So great was Thomas' sense of professional dedication that she devoted most of her energy to her students; her painting career was effectively put on hold until the 1960s. In the exhibitions of those years, Thomas drew upon all her sensory, childhood memories of rich vegetation, her own garden, the formal plantings of the capital city, and the musical sounds of nature to develop a painting style that gained her mainstream attention.
Horace Pippin, 1888 - 1946
Pippin was born just twenty-five years after the abolition of slavery. His earliest recollection of drawing was in school, when he illustrated his spelling words. This usually caused trouble for the young artist at school and at home. His family's poverty presented some obstacles to obtaining art materials, but at age ten, after winning a magazine drawing contest, he won a box of crayons, waterpaints, and brushes. His career as an artist began late in life after Pippin had served as a soldier in World War I and worked as a porter, furniture packer, and iron molder.
Martin Puryear, 1941-
Many different influences have nourished the career of Martin Puryear, who was born in Washington, D.C. Puryear studied painting at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and then served as a Peace Corps teacher in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966. Impressed by the artistry of the West Africans, Puryear became fascinated by sculpture and wood work. He went on to study with noted Swedish cabinetmaker James Krenov. As a graduate student at Yale University from 1969 to 1971, Puryear was immersed in minimalism, a pervasive style at that time. Puryear's sculpture reflects the purity and simplicity of minimalism, yet also alludes to powerfully expressive organic forms.