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Sharon Matt Atkins

(b Oakland, CA, Aug 26, 1925; d Tucson, AZ, June 4, 2009).

American painter, printmaker and teacher. Colescott produced highly expressive and gestural paintings that addressed a wide range of social and cultural themes and challenged stereotypes. Interested in issues of race, gender and power, his work critiqued the representation of minorities in literature, history, art and popular culture. Stylistically, his work is indebted to European modernism, particularly Cubism and Expressionism, but also makes references to African sculpture, African American art and post–World War II American styles.

Colescott was introduced to art at an early age. His mother was a pianist and his father was a classically-trained violinist and jazz musician. Through his parents’ social circles, he often found himself surrounded by creative individuals as he was growing up, like his artistic mentor, the sculptor Sargent Johnson (1888–1967). Colescott received his BA in 1949 and later his MFA in 1952 from the University of California, Berkeley. He also studied with ...

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James Smalls

(b New York, NY, Dec 9, 1919; d New York, NY, Oct 27, 2009).

American photographer and teacher. A central figure in post-war American photography, DeCarava strongly believed ‘in the power of art to illuminate and transform our lives’. Using Harlem as his subject, DeCarava created groundbreaking pictures of everyday life in that enclave of New York. He is also known for scenes of civil rights protests of the early 1960s, images of jazz musicians, and lyrical studies of nature.

DeCarava studied painting and printmaking at the Cooper Union School of Art, the Harlem Community Art Center, and the George Washington Art School. He took up photography in the late 1940s and quickly mastered its vocabulary. In 1952, DeCarava won a Guggenheim Fellowship—the first awarded to an African American photographer. The scholarship allowed him to spend a year photographing daily life in Harlem. These pictures brought a new moderation and intimacy to the photographing of African Americans and their social environment. Perhaps his most memorable photographs were those that appeared in the book ...

Article

Dennis Raverty

(b Birmingham, AL, Oct 17, 1955).

African American painter, writer, film production designer, and multimedia installation artist. Marshall’s works portray idealized subjects derived from African American experience in large-scale, multiple-figure paintings and installations that share many characteristics with European history painting in the “grand manner” of Peter Paul Rubens, Benjamin West, Jacques-Louis David, and the 19th-century academic tradition. This “high culture” Euro-American tradition is juxtaposed with elements of African American vernacular culture in order to reinsert African American subjects and aesthetics into the larger mainstream of America’s artistic and cultural history—a history from which, the artist believes, blacks have been largely excluded.

Marshall was born in Birmingham, AL, one of the most segregated cities in the United States at that time, and the site of civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s. He moved with his parents in 1963 to Nickerson Gardens public housing project in Watts, CA, just a few years before the riots there. Consequently, the struggles of the civil rights movement profoundly affected him and are a major theme in his mature work....