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  • Russ Ramsey

African American Artists

February is Black History Month, so for this Art Wednesday we’ll look at some of America’s great black painters. Henry O Tanner’s The Thankful Poor (1894) is one of my all-time favorite paintings. We have several of his Biblical scenes—his primary subject matter—on the walls of our church.

Henry O Tanner, The Thankful Poor, 1894


Augusta Savage (1892-1962) was a teacher and sculptor during the Harlem Renaissance who worked for equal rights for African Americans in the arts. She inspired many of the artists in today’s Art Wednesday. Look her up.

Augusta Savage, Realization, 1938


Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was mentored by Augusta Savage in Harlem. As with each artist in today’s Art Wednesday, he carefully considered how to depict African American history and contemporary life. Look him up.

Jacob Lawrence, This is Harlem, 1943


Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was a colorist and experssionist. She said, “Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness in my painting rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” Look her up.

Alma Thomas, The Eclipse, 1970


Kerry James Marshall, as with most artists in today’s Art Wednesday, focused on the lives and issues African Americans face. The Lost Boys was a series black children’s loss of innocence at an early age. Look him up.

Kerry James Marshall, The Lost Boys, 1993


Faith Ringgold is best known for her narrative quilts. This one’s called Groovin’ High (1996). Like several of today’s artists, she came from Harlem, which fostered a rich artistic community for black people when many art societies kept them out.

Faith Ringgold, Groovin’ High, 1996


Kehinde Wiley is perhaps best known for Obama’s presidential portrait. He was the first black painter commissioned to do a presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Gallery. Look him up.

Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama, 2017


Kara Walker is best known for her cut-out silhouettes. The minimalism of her work, which nonetheless can be very graphic, leaves much of the interpretative responsibility to the viewer’s conscience.

Kara Walker, Slavery, Slavery, 1997

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