Black History Month 2018 Spotlight: Our Favorite African American Artists

February is a Black History Month, the celebration of the heritage and achievements of African Americans in the United States. Today we are introducing several artists who are very important for the history and culture of the United States. It is impossible to describe all the great artists who were painters, installation artists, drawing artists, sculptors, cartoonists, printmakers, textile artists, and all of the artists who’ve made thoughtful contributions to the art world; So we will focus on several of them. It is a great opportunity to celebrate Black History Month and go to a nice exhibition and explore the art of the African American artists!

Pauline Powell Burns

One of the most interesting artists is Pauline Powell Burns (1872–1912). She came from California and was the first female African American artist who organized her private exhibition in California. Burns was a painter and a pianist at the same time. She started to show her paintings at the early age and had positive recalls. Though later she dedicated herself to pianist career. Unfortunately, not many works have saved from Pauline. One of her most popular works is an oil painting Violets (1890), which you can find in National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Palmer Hayden

Another significant artist is Palmer Hayden (1890–1973). He became popular during Harlem Renaissance and was focusing on painting landscapes and seascapes. He is a winner of the gold medal in visual arts from the Harmon Foundation. Winning the medal he was able to travel to Paris. Being in France, he didn’t spend all the time in Paris. Hayden went to the small villages on the coast and painted landscapes and seascapes, as well as the views of the villages. During the 1930s he became popular by showing African American life in Harlem. One of the most popular works he created is Midsummer Night in Harlem (1936), which you can observe in Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles.

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Alma Thomas

One of the most important and notable artists is Alma Thomas (1891–1978). She was focusing on expressionism and abstract painting. She received a bachelor degree in Fine Arts in Howard University and was the first graduate who received a degree in art. Her first exhibition was taking place at the Gallery of Art at Howard University. For this exhibition she created abstract works inspired by nature. Alma Thomas loved countryside and went there for the inspiration quite often. Her works are colorful and vivid, just like nature itself. Thomas was the first African American woman who had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. Works of Alma Thomas are also exhibited in several museums, for example Columbus Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, or The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jacob Lawrence

The most recognized African-American painter of 20th century is Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000). In his works Lawrence showed everything he observed in Harlem neighborhood. He painted portraits and events of African American community in the United States. He created series of works dedicated to the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. The name of the series is The Migration Series.  The Series were presented to the public at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in 1942. With this exhibition Lawrence became the first African American who exhibited in this gallery. Today you can find works of this artist in numerous museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and several more.

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@GlennLigon’s Untitled (Speech/Crowd) #2 is based on a photograph taken during the 1995 Million Man March, an event organized by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in Washington, DC. It was informed by earlier demonstrations, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. Like most Americans, Ligon experienced the march only through media reports. Trying to come to terms with the event five years later, he scoured news images, enlarging some with a photocopier until fine details became obscured. * Today, we’re looking at #WhitneyCollection works by Black artists that tackle history and historical representations. Many artists today are looking to the past to understand their present as well as to explore the possibilities of collective action. While some of these artworks demonstrate how memory can inform models of protest and activism now, others reveal how nostalgia can make it difficult to move forward. Each shares the belief that artists play a profound role in transforming their time and shaping the future. See the works on view now in the exhibition An Incomplete History of Protest. #BlackHistoryMonth * [Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), Untitled (Speech/Crowd) #2, 2000. Screenprint ink, coal dust, oil stick, ink, graphite, and glue on paper, 40 x 54 in. (101.6 x 137.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; promised gift of Brooke Garber Neidich and Daniel Neidich P.2012.5. © Glenn Ligon]

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Willie Cole

One of the most recognized African American modern artists is Willie Cole (born 1955). He is contemporary artist working in such disciplines as sculpture, print art, visual art. His African origin and fascination of African art has an impact on his works. He is famous for using domestic objects in his art. His metal sculptures are like not from this world, there is combination of African motives, and flexibility of metal parts. Since Cole’s works are in many museums both in the US, and around the world, it would be a good idea to go and watch his art personally, or even travel to another city or country. Art Gallery of Ontario, Baltimore Museum of Art, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Dallas Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art in Washington, and this is not the full list where you can find Cole’s works.


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