Influential Artists to Learn More About During Black History Month
1. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Basquiat was an American artist descending from Haitian and Puerto Rican roots. Basquiat often used social commentary in his artwork as in order to identify his experiences in the black community, and to address the issues on power structures and systemic racism.
2. Joshua Johnson (1763-1832)
Joshua Johnson was a portrait painter from the 18th and 19th-century. He worked and lived in Baltimore while creating over 100 portraits. All of his portraits were created in the same style, a plain background, portrait subjects sitting down, and the painter's works often included fruit, flowers, and parasols as props.
3. Kara Walker (born 1969)
Walker is an American contemporary painter, print-maker, silhouettist, and installation artist who encourages conversations around race, gender, and identity in her artwork. She is well-known for her large, room-sized, black cut paper silhouettes.
4. Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)
Lawrence was an American painter who was known for his portrayal of African-American life. Lawrence identified his style as dynamic cubism, self-defined as bringing the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns mixed with vivid colors within his artwork.
5. Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
Parks was a multi-hyphenate American artist. He was a photographer, film director, musician, and writer, who became an extremely well-known photojournalist in the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1970s. He often depicted civil rights issues, poverty, and life as a Black American. His iconic photos of the 1940s, his photo essays published in Life magazine, and the film Shaft is what he is best known for.
6. Horace Pippin (1912-2006)
Pippin was a self-taught painter who received his inspiration from serving in World War 2. He began painting in order to rehabilitate his arm after being wounded in battle. Throughout the 1930s, he honed his skills by painting on stretched fabric and often reflected his wartime experiences in his artwork. As his art skills developed, he began painting landscapes, as well as political, biblical, slavery, and racial discrimination themes. Today, his paintings can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, and the Barnes Foundation.
7. Titus Kaphar (born 1976)
Kaphar is an American painter who reimagines and manipulates works in order to include the realities of black life throughout history. Kaphar uses all genres of Western art in order to address issues such as the legacy of slavery and racial injustice and protest.
8. Augusta Savage (1892-1962)
Savage was a sculptor, born in Florida and moved to New York City in 1921 during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. During this era, art, music, and literature projected the Harlem area into becoming a cultural hub for African American artists, including Augusta Savage.
After earning her degree from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, she was asked by the Harlem Library to create a bust of civil rights activist and writer W. E. B. Du Bois—a piece that pushed her into the spotlight. In 1935, she co-founded the Harlem Artists Guild and in 1937, she established the Harlem Community Art Center. At the center she taught Jacob Lawrence as well as other well-known African American artists.
9. Kehinde Wiley (born 1977)
Wiley is an American portrait painter based in New York City who is widely known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people. He prides himself on his use of colors, religion, and reflecting the "illusion of power." In 2017, he was commissioned as the first African American painter to paint a presidential portrait for former president, Barack Obama.His painting can be seen in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
10. Bisa Butler (born 1973)
Butler, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, life-sized historical portraits of Black people using quilts. She first began sewing at a young age by watching her mother and grandmother. Initially, Butler's inspiration came from her family members, but now she uses public photos to create her textured pieces. She tells stories of overlooked artists as well as well-known artists, such as Chadwick Boseman. Butler uses fabric to create the pigment and details she needs to depict in her artworks.
11. Theaster Gates (born 1973)
Gates is an American social practice installation artist and a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. His work has been shown in museums and galleries, worldwide. The concurring themes in Gates’ work often includes issues of urban planning and religion.
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