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Article

Morgan Falconer

(b Springfield, IL, 1943).

American installation artist, performance artist and sculptor. He studied in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art Institute and the Otis Art Institute before settling in New York in 1974. He first gained a reputation for his series of Body Prints in the early 1970s. Often resembling X-rays in their detail and translucency, they are direct imprints of the body made on paper with grease. Injustice Case (1973; Los Angeles, CA, Mus. Contemp. A.) is typical in dealing with a contemporary racial issue, with the American flag framing the image presented in opposition to cultural and racial stereotypes; see also African–American Flag, 1990. Contemporaneous with these were the Spade series, which featured garden spades as defiant metaphors for his race, appropriating a derogatory term used by prejudiced whites. These served as a prelude to the found-object sculptures he began to make in the late 1970s from cheap and discarded items such as elephant dung, Afro hair, chicken bones, bottles and bags. Hammons justified his use of such non-art materials which marked a reaction against what he saw as ‘clean’ art, by pointing to the precedents of Dada, Outsider art and Arte Povera. It was these works that brought him greatest recognition. ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

Resurgence in black culture, also called the New Negro Movement, which took place in the 1920s and early 1930s, primarily in Harlem, a neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan, but also in major cities throughout the USA, such as Chicago, Detroit, St Louis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, as well as in the Caribbean and in Paris. Better known as a literary movement because of the publication of twenty-six novels, ten volumes of poetry, five Broadway plays and countless essays and short stories, the Harlem Renaissance (a term that historian John Hope Franklin coined in 1947) also produced many works of visual art, dance, and music. The term invokes a rebirth of African American creativity. Some scholars argue that the renaissance refers to ancient African cultures in Egypt, Kush, and Meroë, while others say that the rebirth dates to the 1890s when writers such as Paul Laurence Dunbar were active, although few notable works of literature by African Americans date between W. E. B. DuBois’s ...

Article

James Smalls

(b Bronx, New York, 1965).

African American photographer. Harris is best known for his dramatically staged self-portraits (in which he performs roles of the opposite gender or race) and photographs of his family members and friends. His works are conceptually and theoretically informed by elements of history and an awareness of the concerns of feminist, gay and lesbian, and postcolonial discourses.

Harris graduated with an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1990. He studied at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York in 1991 and in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at both the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, the Kunsthalle, Basel, and the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva.

In most of his photographs, Harris uses his own body as a conduit through which he poses questions and brings up issues around race, gender, and sexuality. In them, Harris assumes a variety of poses and roles—as boxer, ballerina, Billie Holiday, diva or gangster. As such, his photographs constitute investigations into the incoherencies of accepted and acceptable identities....

Article

Jenifer P. Borum

(b Dallas, GA, Oct 11, 1928; d Alcoa, TN, Aug 12, 1994).

Sculptor of African American and Native American heritage. Born to Homer and Rosie Mae White, Bessie Ruth White was the seventh of 13 children. She married Charles Harvey at age 14, and moved with him to Buena Vista, GA. She later separated from Harvey and moved to Alcoa, TN, where she settled and raised 11 children as a single mother.

Throughout most of her adult life, Harvey experienced visions that did not engage the dogma of her Christian faith, but rather revealed a powerful divine presence in nature. After the death of her mother in 1974, she began to see faces in the dead branches and roots found in the woods near her home in Aloca, and believed them to be animated by spirits. By adorning these roots and branches with paint, costume jewelry and found materials, Harvey revealed the identity of the spirits locked therein—some Biblical and some lost African ancestors. She understood her role as that of a conduit for divine intelligence, claiming “God is the artist in my work.”...

Article

Phoebe Wolfskill

(Cole) [Hedgeman, Peyton Cole]

(b Widewater, VA, Jan 15, 1890; d New York, Feb 18, 1973).

African American painter. Although Hayden received only sporadic formal instruction in painting, his serene seascapes and unique interpretations of African American life secured his place as a leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance.

After taking various odd jobs and enlisting in the US Army, Hayden traveled to New York in 1920 to study painting and composition. He took summer classes at Columbia University, studied briefly with an instructor at Cooper Union, and relocated to Maine to work and study at the Boothbay Art Colony. In 1926, Hayden submitted a seascape to the first annual competition of the Harmon Foundation, an organization that promoted and exhibited black art. Awarded the first-place medal, Hayden used his prize money, along with financial assistance from an employer, to travel to Paris and further hone his skills. Joining Harlem Renaissance contemporaries, including Hale Woodruff and Countee Cullen (1903–46), Hayden produced seascapes and Nous quatre à Paris...

Article

Adrienne L. Childs

(b Oakland, CA, June 25, 1942).

African American printmaker. Celebrated printmaker and visionary artist, Humphrey received a BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in 1972 and an MFA from Stanford University in 1974. She is known for her “sophisticated naive” style through which she chronicled personal memories and experiences. Humphrey’s works are characterized by her idiosyncratic iconography, eclectic imagery and a vivid use of color. She taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1974 to 1992. Humphrey became Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Maryland in College Park in 1989. Major printmaking ateliers, such as the Tamarind Institute and the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, have published her work.

Humphrey employed bold, unmixed color as a source of power and energy in her dynamic lithographs. Although she drew subjects and ideas from a global perspective, her images are rooted in the conditions and circumstances of being black in America. ...

Article

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(Howard)

(b Chicago, IL, Sept 12, 1935).

African American sculptor. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1948–50), while working part-time in the zoological laboratory of the University of Chicago. In 1953 he encountered the iron sculptures of Julio González at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which inspired him to establish his own sculpture workshop. Hunt’s first works were experiments with assemblages of found objects: broken machine parts and discarded metal from the junk yards of Chicago. Working first in copper and iron, then aluminium and steel, he constructed a series of ‘hybrid figures’, which made reference to human, animal, and plant forms. In the 1960s his work moved from linear and calligraphic structures to more enclosed and monolithic forms, reflecting his growing interest in rock formations and geology. A leading African American sculptor, Hunt received early recognition, and his work was featured in many museum and gallery exhibitions in the USA. His first retrospective, in ...

Article

Sandra Sider

(b Hidden Hill Plantation, near Cloutierville, LA, Dec 1886; d Jan 1, 1988).

African American painter. Clementine (pronounced “Clementeen”) Hunter was born the granddaughter of a slave. Her family moved to Melrose Plantation, near Natchitoches, LA, when she was a teenager. She was a Creole, speaking only a dialect of French until the 1970s, when her second husband, Emmanuel Hunter, taught her English. Hunter worked as a field hand picking cotton and, later, as a housekeeper. She had seven children. She began painting in 1939, encouraged by François Mignon, a writer who was visiting the plantation. Hunter estimated that by 1981 she had completed more than 5000 paintings. Her work was first exhibited in the New Orleans Arts and Crafts show in 1949 and during the 1970s in several major museums across the country.

Melrose Plantation provided a vibrant cultural community in which Hunter was able to flourish. During the first half of the 20th century, it was a mecca for mostly Southern writers and artists. Hunter used discarded paint and other materials, creating her floral still lifes and narrative scenes of farm life after hours, in addition to her duties on the plantation. Her first painting was executed on an old window shade, and she often painted on cardboard, plywood, brown paper bags and bottles. Except for an experiment in abstraction that lasted from ...

Article

(b Florence, SC, March 18, 1901; d Long Island, NY, April 13, 1970).

African American painter. His early education was intermittent, but his drawing skills were developed through cartoon work for local newspapers. At 17 he moved to New York, where he found work as a stevedore, cook, and hotel porter. From 1923 to 1926 he attended the National Academy of Design in New York and Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art at Provincetown. On his graduation funds were raised by supporters to enable further study in Paris, where he stayed for three years, absorbing the impact of such European Expressionists as Chaïm Soutine and simplifying his paintings to bold rhythmic compositions. In Paris he met Holcha Krake (1885–1944), a Danish textile designer, whom he married. The couple travelled through Europe, returning to the USA in 1930. Endorsed by the artist George Luks, Johnson received an award from the Harmon Foundation for ‘Distinguished Achievement among Negroes’. He subsequently developed a broader technique with richness of texture and colour. With his wife he settled in Denmark, travelling to Tunisia in ...

Article

Paul Von Blum

(Mailou)

(b Boston, MA, Nov 3, 1905; d Washington, DC, June 9, 1998).

African American painter and art educator. During her artistic career of more than 70 years, Jones powerfully extended the tradition of African American visual art, while overcoming severe barriers of race and gender. Her parents encouraged her artistic inclinations while she was growing up in Boston and after graduating from the High School of Practical Arts she studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, receiving a diploma in design in 1927. After additional studies in art, including a summer school at Harvard University, Jones accepted a position to develop an art programme at the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina, a preparatory school for African Americans. In 1930 she joined the Howard University faculty in Washington, DC, where she trained generations of young artists until her retirement in 1977. Teaching design and watercolour painting, she exerted a durable influence on 20th-century African American art education....

Article

Morgan Falconer

(b Atlantic City, NJ, Sept 7, 1917; d Seattle, June 9, 2000).

American painter. He took Works Progress Administration art classes in New York (1934–7), and also studied at the Harlem Art Workshop, New York (1935) and the American Artists’ School (1937). Lawrence’s vigorous social realism quickly brought him recognition and by 1941 he was the first African American artist to be represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His early work comprised genre depictions of everyday life in Harlem, as well as major series devoted to black history (1940–41; see And the Migrants Kept Coming and In the North the Negro had Better Educational Facilities). The 41 pictures of the Touissant L’Ouverture series (1937–8; see 1986–7 exh. cat., pp. 52–3) are addressed to Haiti’s struggle for independence in the 19th century. Small pictures, executed in tempera on paper, they are characteristic of his use of water-based media throughout his career; the schematic designs, flat space, and vigorous, angular figures are typical of his style both at the beginning and the end of his life. ...

Article

Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Eustis, FL, Sept 20, 1915; d Albuquerque, NM, Feb 23, 1999).

African American painter. Lee-Smith began art instruction in 1925 at the Cleveland Museum of Art where he worked with Clarence Carter. Later, he was active in Cleveland’s Karamu House arts and theater programs which, during the 1930s, was a hothouse for artistic expression that advanced racial integration. The overt theatricality of his compositions has been attributed to this early exposure to stagecraft. He went on to study at the Detroit School of Arts and Crafts and Cleveland School of Art with Carl Gaertner (1898–1952), Henry Keller (1869–1949) and Ralph Stoh. Lee-Smith was active in several artist collectives and taught painting in New York at the Art Students League from 1972 through 1988. American artists such as Albert Pinkham Ryder and Edward Hopper, with their painterly technique and mysterious environments, inspired what matured into Lee-Smith’s neo-Surrealist signature style. His art bares witness to the deterioration of poor neighborhoods during times of economic hardship and the solitary figures within his landscapes are poignant. Although small to mid-size paintings dominate his oeuvre, there were a number of mural commissions such as the New Jersey Commerce Building in Trenton....

Article

[Wildfire]

(b New York, 1845; d after 1911).

American sculptor. Born to an African American father and a Native American mother, she was the first black American sculptor to achieve national prominence. During her early childhood she travelled with her family in the Chippewa tribe, by whom she was known as Wildfire. At 12 she attended school at Albany, NY (1857–9), then a liberal arts course at Oberlin College, OH (1860–63). Lewis then went to Boston (1863) to study with Edward Brackett (1818–1908) and Anne Whitney. Her medallion of the abolitionist John Browne and a bust of the Civil War hero Col. Robert Shaw were exhibited at the Soldiers’ Relief Fair (1864), Boston; the latter sold over 100 plaster copies, enabling Lewis to travel to Rome (1865). There she was introduced to the White Marmorean Flock, a group of women sculptors, including Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins...

Article

James Smalls

(b New York City, 1909; d New York City, Aug 27, 1979).

African American painter. Norman Lewis was the first major African American painter associated with Abstract Expressionism. His body of works includes paintings, drawings and murals. A life-long resident of Harlem, New York, he was influenced early on by the sculptor and teacher Augusta Savage, who provided him with open studio space at her Harlem Art Center. It was there that he studied African art intensely and was introduced to Alain Locke (1886–1954), Howard University professor and intellectual leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Lewis became familiar with Locke’s ideas but soon questioned the wisdom of creating an art based on an “African” or “Negro” idiom. He thought Locke’s concept of art was limiting and wanted instead to be considered as an artist in the broadest sense of the term rather than just a “Negro artist.” In moving towards this goal, he exhibited with the American Abstract Artists, participated in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) art projects alongside his friends ...

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....

Article

Elizabeth K. Mix

(b Addis Ababa, 1970).

Ethiopian painter, active also in the USA. She received a BA from Kalamazoo College, Michigan (1992) and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design (1997). Mehretu simultaneously references and breaks from the history of abstract modernist painting in her works, which combine multiple layers of drawing and painting, and are embedded with appropriated cultural references ranging from corporate logos and architectural structures to art history, comics, and graffiti.

Works such as Dispersion (2002; see 2006 exh. cat., p. 81) first suggest topographical drawings combined with geometric coloured shapes and swirling lines in a controlled chaos that simultaneously deconstructs and regenerates. Her work has been influenced by a range of art historical sources: a Baroque theatricality (alluded to specifically in The Seven Acts of Mercy (2004), inspired by Caravaggio (see 2006 exh. cat., pp. 132–3); Italian Futurism’s anarchistic revolution fueled by speed and technology; and the utopian social visions of Russian Constructivism. Geometric shapes associated with Kazimir Malevich are referenced in ...

Article

Kate Wight

(b Lafayette, AL, 1900; d New Orleans, LA, July 8, 1980).

American painter, musician and evangelical preacher. Morgan lived in Alabama and Georgia in her early life and was married to Will Morgan in 1928. At the age of 38 she experienced a divine calling, which prompted her to become a street evangelist. Morgan believed she was called by God to preach the Gospel and serve through her art. She left her family and husband and moved to New Orleans. There, she ran a mission and orphanage for 17 years until in 1956 she again heard the voice of God, this time specifically telling her to paint.

The subject of her art was primarily the Bible, and particularly the Book of Revelation. Morgan’s drawings and paintings were often figural and featured text with apocalyptic messages. A popular phrase in her works was “Jesus is my airplane.” After a later revelation, Morgan believed she was the bride of Christ and began wearing only white garments. She began portraying herself in this way within her works....

Article

Reinhold Misselbeck

revised by Kimberly Juanita Brown

(Roger Alexander Buchanan )

(b Fort Scott, KS, Nov 30, 1912; d New York, NY, March 7, 2006).

African American photographer, writer, film maker, and composer. Parks was the youngest of 15 children and, after the early death of his mother, he took on responsibilities for himself and his family as a teenager. Parks worked in a number of professions before becoming a self-taught freelance photographer in 1937. After getting his start in fashion photography, he worked as one of the Farm Security Administration’s photographic team (1942–3) and held a similar post with the Office of War Information (1943–5). During this time he produced now iconic pictures such as American Gothic (1942), which features a black cleaner in front of the American flag staring into the camera with mop and broom upturned, as if in salute. Parks was soon hired as a photographer for Life magazine, where he worked from 1948 to 1961. During this period he famously photographed such political figures as Malcolm X, members of the Black Panther Party (along with Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver), as well as urban strife and poverty in Harlem, NY, and Rio de Janeiro. He took photographs of actors (Marilyn Monroe), sports heroes (Muhammad Ali), and singers (Barbra Streisand) while remaining dedicated to social ...

Article

Jordana Moore Saggese

African American painter, performance artist, mixed-media artist, and writer. Pindell studied painting at Boston University, where she received a BFA in 1965, and also attended Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she received an MFA in 1967. Throughout her career Pindell worked in and experimented with a variety of media, including painting, photography, text, printmaking, and video....

Article

James Smalls

(b New York, Sept 20, 1948).

African American conceptual and performance artist. Piper graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in painting and sculpture from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1969. While continuing to produce and exhibit her artwork, she received a BA in Philosophy from the City College of New York in 1974. During 1977–8, Piper studied Kant and Hegel at the University of Heidelberg and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1981. She taught philosophy at Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and the University of California, San Diego. Her principal publications have been in meta-ethics, Kantian metaphysics, and the history of ethics. These interests also influenced her art. In 1987 she became the first tenured African American woman professor in the field of philosophy at Wellesley College and, through numerous scholarly books and articles, began to present her ideas through performance art, photography, and video....