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Article

Joan Marter

(b Atlanta, GA, March 16, 1938).

African American painter, printmaker, and weaver. Amos studied fine arts and textile weaving at Antioch College at Yellow Springs, OH, where she received her BFA in 1958. She went on to study etching and painting at the Central School of Art, London (1958–9), and the following year she moved to New York, where she began working at two printmaking studios: Robert Blackburn’s workshop and that of Letterio Calapai (an outpost of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17). She completed her MA at New York University (NYU) in 1966. Through Hale Woodruff, an art professor at NYU and family friend, she was invited to exhibit with Spiral, an all-male art group founded by Woodruff and Romare Bearden and featuring recognized African American artists. Spiral, closely allied with the Civil Rights movement, dissolved in 1967 and subsequently Amos had trouble exhibiting her work. In 1974, after the birth of her two children, Amos found a position as an instructor in textile design at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. She continued her own weaving in New York and benefited from the revival of interest in women’s traditional art forms in the early years of the feminist art movement....

Article

Deborah Cullen

(b Plainview, GA, Nov 13, 1930; d Brooklyn, New York, Nov 10, 2006).

African American painter, collagist, printmaker, and art advocate. Benny Andrews grew up under segregation in the rural South, one of 10 children in a sharecropper’s family. After graduating from high school, he served in the US Air Force. Afterwards, through the GI Bill of Rights, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his BFA. In 1958, he moved to New York. Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship (1965–6) as well as a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts (1971). From 1968 to 1997, he taught at Queens College, City University of New York and created a prison arts program that became a national model. In 1969, Andrews co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), an organization that protested against the Harlem on my Mind exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Between ...

Article

James Smalls

(b Gastonia, NC, April 13, 1924; d Houston, TX, Jan 25, 2001).

American painter, draftsman, printmaker and sculptor. John (Thomas) Biggers, the youngest of seven children, grew up in segregated Gastonia, NC. Upon the death of his father in 1937, his mother sent him away to Lincoln Academy to receive a high quality education. While there, he learned a great deal about African art and the value of African culture; these were lessons he would carry with him throughout his career. Although African influences were most noteworthy in his works, he also managed to synthesize elements from American Regionalism, the African American figurative tradition and Native American sources. In 1941, Biggers entered the Hampton Institute (later renamed Hampton University) in Virginia, where he studied art. In 1943, his mural Dying Soldier was featured in the landmark exhibition Young Negro Art, organized for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In that same year, he was drafted into the United States Navy. After receiving an honorable discharge three years later, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his BA and MA degrees in ...

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Deborah Cullen

(b Los Angeles, CA, Aug 12, 1933).

African American filmmaker, sculptor, printmaker and archivist of African American culture. Camille Billops received her BA from California State College and her MFA from the City College of New York. A visual artist, filmmaker and archivist, Billops’s darkly humorous prints and sculpture have been exhibited internationally, including at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, the New Museum and the Bronx Museum, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Clark College, Atlanta University; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia; Gallerie Akhenaton, Cairo, Egypt; the American Center, Karachi, Pakistan; and the American Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan. Billops received a Percent for Art commission in New York and was a long-time member of Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop (PMW), traveling to establish the first summer printmaking workshop in Asilah, Morocco, with the PMW delegation.

As a filmmaker, Billops earned a National Endowment for the Arts award. Her films have been shown on public television and at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She collaborated with photographer James Van Der Zee (...

Article

Deborah Cullen

[Bob] (Hamilton)

(b Summit, NJ, Dec 10, 1920; d New York, NY, April 21, 2003).

African American printmaker and educator. Robert Blackburn’s family moved to Harlem when he was six years old. Blackburn attended meetings at “306” and learned lithography in 1938 at the Harlem Community Art Center. He earned a scholarship to the Art Students League from 1940 to 1943 and worked for the Harmon Foundation in the mid 1940s. In 1948, he opened the Printmaking Workshop (PMW) in Chelsea, a cooperative where he and his friends could pursue experimental fine art lithography. By 1955, students from S. W. Hayter’s Atelier 17, an experimental intaglio workshop, were in attendance. Blackburn earned his living by teaching lithography and printing editions for artists. He became one of the first black technicians at Cooper Union. From 1952 to 1953, Blackburn went to Paris on a John Hay Whitney traveling fellowship, where he worked at the Jacques Desjobert Workshop and then traveled around Europe. He returned to New York and his Printmaking Workshop in ...

Article

Gina M. D’Angelo

(b Harrisburg, PA, Feb 22, 1841; d St Paul, MN, March 2, 1918).

African American painter and lithographer. Brown was the first African American artist to portray California and the Pacific Northwest. One of many artists who migrated West in the years after the gold rush, Brown began his career in San Francisco in the 1860s as a commercial lithographer, and made his mark in the 1880s as a landscape painter of the Pacific Northwest.

The son of freed slaves, Brown probably began his career working at the lithographic firm of P. S. Duval in Philadelphia, and in the late 1850s followed C. C. Kuchel, a Duval lithographer and his soon-to-be employer, to San Francisco. From 1861 to 1867 he worked as a draftsman and lithographer at the Kuchel & Dressel firm in San Francisco, and in 1867 established his own firm, G. T. Brown & Co. His most celebrated project, The Illustrated History of San Mateo County (1878), featured 72 city views whose sensitive topographical style would influence his paintings. Brown sold his firm in ...

Article

Paul Von Blum

(b Washington, DC, April 15, 1915; d Cuernavaca, Mexico, April 3, 2012).

African American sculptor, printmaker, and art educator, active also in Mexico. One of the leading African American feminist and political artists of the 20th century and early 21st century, Catlett devoted her career of more than 60 years to expressing critical ideas in powerful visual form both in the United States and in her adopted country of Mexico. Her strong academic background began at Howard University, Washington, DC, where she studied under African American art luminaries James Porter (d 1939), James Wells (1902–93), and Lois Jones. After graduating in 1937, she completed her MFA in 1940 at the University of Iowa.

In 1941 she married the artist Charles White. Visiting Mexico, they found the Mexican mural and printmaking tradition artistically and politically engaging. After her first marriage ended in 1946, she moved to Mexico in the wake of American post-war political repression. While working at the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City, she met the Mexican artist Francisco Mora (...

Article

James Smalls

(b Somerville, NJ, 1955).

African American sculptor, printmaker, and conceptual artist. He grew up in New Jersey and attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League of New York City. Cole is best known for assembling and transforming ordinary domestic objects, such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes, lawn jockeys, hair dryers, bicycle parts and other discarded appliances and hardware into imaginative and powerful configurations and installations embedded with references to the African American experience and inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture. Visual puns and verbal play characterized his works, thereby creating layered meanings. The objects he chose were often discarded mass-produced American products that had themselves acquired an alternate history through their previous handling and use.

In 1989, he became attracted to the motif of the steam iron both for its form and for its perceived embodiment of the experience and history of the unknown persons who had previously used it. He referred to the earliest versions of these irons as ‘Household Gods’ and ‘Domestic Demons’. With them, he engaged with ideas utilizing not only the found object but also the repetitive scorch mark of the iron arranged in either purely decorative patterns or in such ways as to suggest a face or African mask (...

Article

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 ...

Article

Jacqueline Francis

(b Richmond, VA, Jan 10, 1916).

African American painter and printmaker. Cortor’s signature form is the attenuated black female nude presented as the personification of the African Diaspora’s cultural richness and beauty. Born in the American South, Cortor left the region as a child and was raised in Chicago. After finishing high school, he studied painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1936 to 1938. In 1938, Cortor joined the easel painting division of the Federal Art Project and worked in this Works Progress Administration program for five years, producing heroic, social realist genre pictures.

In 1944–5, Cortor was awarded successive Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellowships that funded travel to the Sea Islands off the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. There, Cortor studied and painted the Gullah people, African Americans well-known for their retention of African cultural ways and languages.

By the late 1940s Cortor had developed a romantic realist style that generated widespread notice and praise. His painting ...

Article

Catherine M. Grant and Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Cleveland, OH, 1959).

American printmaker, film maker, installation and conceptual artist and writer.

Green, of African descent, has worked primarily with film-based media, and has published criticism and designed installations that reveal her commitment to ongoing feminist and black empowerment movements. She earned her BA from Wesleyan University in 1981 and also spent some time at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1980, returning in the late 1980s to study in the Whitney Independent Study Program, graduating in 1990. At the age of 24 she began exhibiting her comparative compositions containing found objects, images, and texts that question recorded history.

Green’s work deals with issues of anthropology and travel. By undertaking projects via the methodology of the 19th-century explorer, she exposed the arbitrary and prejudiced nature of classification, as in Bequest (1991; see 1993 exh. cat.), an installation she made at the invitation of the Worcester Museum of Art to commemorate their 50th anniversary. Using the museum as a ready-made stage set, she installed works of art alongside 19th-century texts explaining stereotypes of whiteness and blackness. Green characteristically intervened in the history of her chosen site to produce a fiction that included her own responses as an African American woman to her findings. In ...

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

Theresa Leininger-Miller

(b New York, Sept 17, 1896; d Haute-Savoie, April 3, 1940).

African American painter, printmaker and jazz musician. Smith was an internationally renowned artist in the 1920s and 1930s. He was an only child to chauffeur Alfred Renforth Smith and Elizabeth Smith, immigrants from Bermuda. Smith studied piano and guitar while attending the Ethical Culture Art School on scholarship and DeWitt Clinton High School in New York. Later, he studied under William Auberbach-Levy (1889–1964), Charles Curran (1861–1942) and Kenyon Cox at the National Academy of Design (1915–18), where he won several prizes, and the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Liège, Belgium. (Smith had first been abroad with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.) Once he settled in Paris in 1920, he exhibited his etchings, lithographs, paintings and drawings of scenes in France, Italy and Spain. Among other places, Smith also exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1921 as well as in Cannes, Brussels, New York and Boston. His frequent illustrations in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Urban League magazines, ...

Article

Jacqueline Francis

(b Griffin, GA, 22 March ?1893; d Philadelphia, PA, April 19, 1965).

American printmaker. Best known for his development of the carborundum print, Thrash produced moody genre portraits of African Americans and landscapes in this medium. Thrash was born in a small town just south of Atlanta. He dropped out of school in 1903 and left home in 1908. Thrash continued his education by taking art correspondence courses while living an itinerant life. In 1914 he started night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and reported studying with the painter William Edouard Scott (1884–1964), but the circumstances of their association remain unclear. In 1917 Thrash joined the US Army and suffered injuries fighting in France. In 1919 he returned to the US and resumed his training at the Art Institute, studying composition, lettering and poster and mural design for the next four years.

In 1925 Thrash permanently relocated to Philadelphia. He worked blue-collar jobs, did commercial art on the side and found his métier in printmaking, which he began studying with Earl Horter (...

Article

Adrienne L. Childs

(b Atlanta, GA, Nov 2, 1902; d Washington, DC, Jan 20, 1993).

American printmaker, painter and educator. Wells’s 70-year career had a major impact on the development of African American art in the 20th century. He studied at the National Academy of Design, Columbia University Teachers College and the Atelier 17 printmaking workshop, both in New York. In 1929 he began teaching at Howard University, Washington, DC, where he remained an influential professor of art until his retirement in 1968.

One of the first black artists to embrace modernism, Wells’s early linocuts such as African Phantasy (1928) and Sisters (1929) embody the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance as African American artists looked toward African ancestral arts for inspiration. His graphic works were included in journals such as The Crisis, Opportunity and New Masses and became central to the visual culture of the New Negro Movement. Wells’s graphic style was influenced by European Expressionism, African and Egyptian art as well as popular Art Deco motifs. His extensive repertoire as a printmaker incorporated lithography, linoleum cut and wood engraving; his subjects included Bible stories, the urban worker, mythology, Africa and the nude. Also known for his expressionistic painting style, the Harmon Foundation awarded Wells a gold medal in ...

Article

Paul Von Blum

( Wilbert )

(b Chicago, IL, April 2, 1918; d Los Angeles, CA, Oct 3, 1979).

American painter and printmaker. White was one of the finest African American artists of the mid-20th century and an important figure in African American art history. Throughout his distinguished career, he combined outstanding technical skill in painting and printmaking with a lifelong commitment to chronicling the hopes and struggles of African Americans. His artworks celebrated both African American heroes and everyday women and men struggling to maintain dignity in a racially segregated society. He achieved major national and international acclaim at a time when Abstract Expressionism dominated the mainstream art world and African American artists were consigned critical marginality in galleries, art journals, newspapers, magazines, and colleges and universities.

Most of White’s artistic career was devoted to visual social commentary, which solidified his standing within the tradition of renowned political artists, including Francisco de Goya, Honoré Daumier, Käthe Kollwitz and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. White’s artworks revealed the influence of a generation of American Social Realist artists, including Ben Shahn, William Gropper, Philip Evergood and many others....

Article

Patricia Hills

(b Roxbury, MA, April 14, 1922).

American sculptor, painter, printmaker and teacher. Raised in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, Wilson was the second of five children of Reginald and Violet Wilson, immigrants from British Guiana (now the Republic of Guyana). He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a full scholarship and received a diploma with highest honors in 1945; a BS degree in art education followed in 1947 from Tufts University. With a fellowship from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he spent 1947–9 in Paris, where he studied with Fernand Léger. Returning to Boston he taught briefly at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, married Julie Kowitch and moved to Mexico City with a John Hay Whitney Fellowship. There he became friends with Elizabeth Catlett and her husband Francesco Mora, both active in the graphic workshop organized by leftist artists, the Taller de Gráfica Popular, where he worked. In Mexico he learned the techniques of true fresco, which had been popularized by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and painted the mural, ...

Article

( Aspacio )

(b Cairo, IL, Aug 26, 1900; d New York, NY, Sept 6, 1980).

American painter, printmaker, and teacher . He was a leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance ( see African American art §I 2. ) and studied at the John Herron Institute, Indianapolis, the school of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and the Académie Scandinave and the Académie Moderne, Paris. He also worked with Henry Ossawa Tanner in Paris (1931) and studied mural painting with Diego Rivera in Mexico City (1936). From the European schools he learnt strong composition and the narrative power of Goya. He was concerned to amplify the problems of Black Americans, and his murals (influenced by Rivera) carry sharp commentaries on subjects such as the poor social conditions of his compatriots and forebears in Georgia, the Amistad slave uprising and the creation of Talladega College (e.g. the Amistad Murals, Talladega College, AL). In the South, Woodruff discovered and taught several talented artists including ...