February is Black History Month— in the midst of a time when we get a chance to put a spotlight on some of the most charismatic and influential black Americans in our country’s history, taking a look at the visual artists who have helped to shape our collective imagery is a vital way to frame it in a context. These talented and inspired visionaries pave the way with their lush, emotional and powerful work, assembling a visual understanding of a complex, deep and ultimately beautiful experience of life.
Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in South Central Los Angeles where the Black Power and Civil Rights movements had a significant impact on his paintings. His work meanders through narratives of black everyday life, with an undercurrent juxtaposing elements of idealism with reality. While able to depict true stories and real people, he touches the inescapable presence of magic and the enigmatic style within his culture. This breathtaking and enormous signed etching Vignette (Wishing Well) fills the whole room with its music.
Vignette (Wishing Well) – Kerry James Marshall, 2010 SIGNED etching – Contact us to inquire
Jacob Lawrence began his art practice at age 13 with a move to Harlem in New York City in 1930, a seed that led him to develop practices as a painter, storyteller, interpreter and educator. What started by way of copying the patterns of his mother's carpets evolved into a style he referred to as dynamic cubism, inspired by the shapes and colors of Harlem— a bold mix of the darkness of the Great Depression against the indelible heart of his vibrant community. Even the hand drawn typography in this signed 1968 Skowhegan School print displays the grace and grit of his distinctive energy.
Skowhegan School – Jacob Lawrence, 1968 SIGNED stone lithograph
Romare Bearden was born and grew up in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and moved to New York City after high school. His work expanded through different media including oils and collage, canvas and cartoons, and he was also an accomplished author and songwriter, a collaborator with friend Dizzy Gillespie. His artwork experiments with varying stages of abstraction depicting the lives and lifestyles of Black America, drawn from his youth in the south, and through 1960s New York, when he became a founding member of the Harlem-based art group known as The Spiral, formed to discuss the responsibility of the African-American artist in the struggle for civil rights. This piece School Bell Time shows his exciting mix of two-dimensional stylization, cut paper, abrupt pattern and passionate brushwork.
School Bell Time – Romare Bearden, 1994 silkscreen
Faith Ringgold, born in Harlem in 1930 surrounded by the vibrancy left by the Harlem Renaissance, is an artist best known for her narrative quilts. Her parents descended from working-class families displaced by the Great Migration, her mother a fashion designer and father an avid storyteller, and people like Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and Sonny Rollins were amongst her network. Her artistic practice was broad and diverse, from painting to quilts to sculptures and performance art, children’s books and working as a college educator in the New York City public schools. She addressed themes regarding American lifestyle in relation to the Civil Rights Movement and portrayed these racial interactions from a woman’s point of view. Always with bright, lyrical colors and energetic tone, her work projects a humanness while tackling charged subject matter, evident in this signed silkscreen Coming to Jones Road Under a Blood Red Sky #5.
Coming to Jones Road Under a Blood Red Sky #5 – Faith Ringgold, 2004 SIGNED silkscreen
And Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary artist born in New Jersey near New York City, whose mother raised her and her brother as Buddhists. As a teenager, she and her mother had a very intimate and strenuous relationship due to her parents' addiction to drugs and Thomas dealing with her sexuality, themes which play out in her artistic investigations of femininity, beauty, race, sexuality and gender. She is best known for her complex paintings made of rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel, her distinctive style being rich and full, multi-layered and sensuous. Her unique voice utilizing dynamic patterns offset by the shapes of the human figure is what makes a piece like I've Been Good To Me, a large signed mixed media symphony, really crackle.
I've Been Good To Me – Mickalene Thomas, 2015 SIGNED mixed media