In honor of Black History month I thought I would list my African American artists working today. Now I don’t claim to be an expert in the field. I’m just another art – lover with a blog and an opinion. To distill this list down to only ten names took some doing. There were many who got left out who perhaps really belong here. All comments are welcome, and if you think of someone who should be added to the list let me know. I’m sure I haven’t seen every great black artist working today… maybe we can discover some new talents together.
10. Kehinde Wiley
“Prince Tommaso Francesco of Savoy–Carignano”, 2006; oil on canvas
Kehinde Wiley has enjoyed big time success. He’s famous for creating large portraits of young black men. The portraits are vibrant and highly patterned. His subjects usually wear the latest in hip hop street fashion. The theatrical poses and objects in the portraits are based on well-known images from 17th – 18th century Western art. Wiley gives the authority of those historical sitters to his modern subjects. In 2005, VH1 paid Wiley to paint portraits of the people up for that year’s Hip Hop Honors program. He applied his usual magic to these images. He included references to older portraits to add legitimacy to paintings of powerful musicians. In Wiley’s hands, Ice T channels Napoleon. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five take on a 17th century Dutch civic guard company.
9. Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall is known for creating large paintings and sculptures which show African American life and culture. Early on he developed his unique style of depicting African American figures in jet black paint. His work often deals with the effects of the Civil Rights movement on domestic life. He also works with elements of popular culture. Marshall was born in Alabama born. But, he grew up in California.
8. Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford’s wall pieces look like giant maps at first. They are detailed contours of cities. And as you approach them, you’ll see tiny colorful details. Carefully looking at the works creates the effect of zooming in from an aerial view to a street level view.
These large scale collages are made from found materials. Mark gathers these materials as he goes out into the city. He describes his work as a “technique of locomotion without a goal.” However he doesn’t drift without motive. Bradford wanders through Los Angeles with the goal of gathering materials to make precious art works.
7. Glenn Ligon
Glenn Ligon works in a variety of media. This includes painting. Neon. Video. Photography. And digital media like Adobe Flash. Much of Ligon’s work is inspired by his experiences as a gay black man living in the U.S.
Even though he’s a multi media artist, painting is his main thing. His paintings include literary fragments. Jokes. And quotes from a selection of authors. He stencils them directly onto the canvas by hand.
6. Carrie Mae Weems
Weems is primarily a photographer. She’s a socially motivated artist. Her work deals with issues around race, gender and class. Lately she has broadened her view to include global struggles for equality and justice.
Weems uses a variety of media. She addresses a wide range of issues. An overall commitment to better understanding the present by looking into the past is found in her work. A collective spirit is also present. It’s true black people are her primary subjects. But Weems wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes”. And for her art to be relate-able for people of all races.
5. Kara Walker
- Slihouettes by Kara Walker
Power. Repression. History. Sex. Race. These are subjects for the artwork of Kara Walker. She’s best known for her room-size constructions of black cut-paper silhouettes. They examine the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions.
4. Barkley L. Hendricks
Barkley L. Hendricks is an African American painting pioneer. He’s made many contributions to black portraiture and conceptual-ism. He’s worked in a variety of media and genres throughout his career. From photography to landscape painting. Hendricks’ best known work takes the form of life-sized painted portraits. In these portraits he gives a proud, dignified presence to his subjects. They’re usually people of color. Hendricks’ work has been noted as unique. Its a combination of both American realism and post-modernism.
Barkley L. Hendricks’ large-scale paintings and photos show the best of American urban style. His portraits are full of romanticism. Yet they are realistic depictions of modern black people. His subjects aren’t generic types. They’re recognizable human beings.
3. Michael Ray Charles
The art of Michael Ray Charles is concerned with exploring the legacy of racist stereotypes. His work is mostly brightly colored paintings and prints. He uses characters like Sambo. Aunt Jemima. And Uncle Tom. They help him comment on modern racial attitudes.
As a result, Charles has been in the center of controversy. In a 1999 ARTnews article—Charles explained, “Every time I have a show there are some black folks complaining.” Yet getting strong reactions from people seems to please Charles. He says his work is “beautiful.” Charles has taught at the U of Texas since 1993.
2. Fred Wilson
Conceptual artist Fred Wilson has a very mixed background. He describes himself as “African, Native American, European and Amerindian”. Wilson has had to deal with being “different” his whole life. In school he was shunned by classmates for that reason.
Wilson’s subject is social justice and his medium is museology. The study of museums. In the 1970’s, he worked as a free-lance museum teacher for the American Museum of Natural History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the American Crafts Museum. Beginning in the late 1980s, Wilson used his insider skills to create a series of “mock museums”. This work addresses how museums reinforce racist beliefs and behaviors.
1. Willie Cole
Willie Cole’s is a sculptor best known for his work with ordinary objects. This includes irons. Ironing boards. High-heeled shoes. Hair dryers. Bicycle parts. Wooden matches. Lawn jockeys. And other discarded appliances and hardware. He uses these materials to create imaginative and powerful works of art and installations.
Willie Cole is a sculptor best known for his work with ordinary objects. This includes irons. Ironing boards. High-heeled shoes. Hair dryers. Bicycle parts. Wooden matches. Lawn jockeys. And other discarded appliances and hardware. He uses these materials to create imaginative and powerful works of art and installations.
Cole, in most of his works uses a single object over and over. In the artists’s hands these everyday items take on a higher purpose. He turns objects into metaphor. Or they become a critique of our consumer culture.
Cole combines references and appropriation from a wide range of sources.He has turned icons of American pop culture or African and Asian masks into highly original artwork. Some of Cole’s interactive installations also draw on simple game board structures. They include the element of chance while physically engaging the viewer.