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This journal is a creative outlet of all the things Kali Brown loves, from fashion, diy's, art, museum galleries to even food.  I am not a professional blogger and the things I share are my sole opinion. Enjoy my creative voyage!

Filtering by Tag: Black History Art

Black History Art: Gordon Parks

Kali Abdullah

Invisible Man, 1952. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Invisible Man, 1952. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Growing up I spent my summers in North Carolina with my grandparents.   My grandfather was the original budding photographer in our family, he had a variety of different cameras and the whole art fascinated me.  I was around seven when he gave me my first camera and that is the officially moment that I fell in love with photography and decided it would be a part of my career.  Though my family fully supported my creative process, society and grade schools made the decision to be an artist or a photographer as a profession a form of failure because the arts was not considered “a real job” or a successful source of income.  Then I learned about a self-taught artist who turned a fascination into a life long career. Gordon Parks is the reason I decided to embrace my love of the arts and pursue photography in college.

Gordon Parks (born November 30, 1912) is what I would consider a renaissance man.  He was a musician, writer, and film director, but was most celebrated for being a photographer documenting many of the most important aspects of American culture ranging from issues of civil rights and poverty in the African-American community to glamour and fashion.

Department Store, Birmingham, Alabama , 1956. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Department Store, Birmingham, Alabama, 1956. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks left home at the age of 15 after the death of his mother. He lived with relatives for a short time before setting off on his own, taking whatever odd jobs he could find. At the age of 25, while working as a waiter in a railroad dining car, he began seeing the portfolios of portraits in magazines and decided to become a photographer.  He purchased his first camera at a pawnshop and started a portrait business in Chicago.

Gordon Parks became the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. He also pursued movie directing and screenwriting and was the first African-American to produce and direct major motion pictures. He developed films relating the experience of slaves and struggling black Americans, such as The Learning Tree and created the "blaxploitation” genre which produced Shaft.

American Gothic, Washington DC. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

American Gothic, Washington DC. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

He is best remembered for his iconic photos of poor low-income Americans during the 1940s taken during his fellowship with the Farm Security Administration (FSA).  Parks created some of his most enduring photographs during this fellowship, including one of his best-known photographs, American Gothic, Washington, D.C.  Parks striking photograph shows a black woman, Ella Watson, who worked on the cleaning crew of the FSA building, standing stiffly in front of an American flag hanging on the wall, a broom in one hand and a mop in the background. Parks had been inspired to create the image after encountering racism repeatedly in restaurants and shops in the segregated capital city.
 
When the FSA job ended he became a freelance photographer for Vogue. Parks worked for Vogue for a number of years, developing a distinctive style that emphasized the look of models and garments in motion, rather than in static poses.

Long Haired Fur. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Long Haired Fur. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Eartha Kitt 1952.  Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Eartha Kitt 1952.  Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Relocating to Harlem, Parks continued to document city images and characters while working in the fashion industry. His 1948 photographic essay on a Harlem gang leader won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for LIFE magazine, at the time the nation's most prominent and highest-circulation photographic publication in the world. Parks held this position for 20 years, producing photographs on subjects including fashion, sports, and entertainment as well as poverty and racial segregation. He took memorable portraits of African-American celebrities, politicians, and leaders, including Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Adam Clayton Powell, and Muhammad Ali.  In the 1970s, Parks served as the editorial director during the first three years of Essence Magazine’s circulation.

Harlem Gang Leader. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Harlem Gang Leader. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Muhammad Ali.  Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Muhammad Ali.  Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

(l to r)  Ethel Shariff in Chicago , 1963;  Evening Prayer, Muslim Father and Son , New York, 1946. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

(l to r) Ethel Shariff in Chicago, 1963; Evening Prayer, Muslim Father and Son, New York, 1946. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Many of Parks photos capture the essence of activism and humanitarianism in the mid-twentieth century America and have become iconic images, defining their era for later generations. They also rallied support for the emerging Civil Rights Movement, for which Parks himself was a tireless advocate as well as a documentarian.

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

I had the opportunity to meet Gordon Parks my junior year of college when he came to speak at my school Pratt.  It was a full circle moment in my life.  He was an active photographer until his death on March 7, 2006, at the age of 93. Parks spent his life expanding his style, a style that would make him one of the most celebrated photographers of his age. He broke the color line in professional photography while creating remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of racism.  He will always be a legend and one of my all time favorite artist.

Black History Art: Jacob Lawrence

Kali Abdullah

Migration Series: In the North the Negro had better educational facilities. Panel 58

Migration Series: In the North the Negro had better educational facilities. Panel 58

Jacob Lawrence(September 7, 1917) is among the best-known 20th-century African-American painters.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey but raised in New York City's Harlem, Jacob Lawrence was most widely acclaimed for producing narrative collections that brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors.  Lawrence referred to his style as "dynamic cubism," though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem.

This is Harlem

This is Harlem

Lawrence was introduced to art when his mother enrolled him in classes at an arts and crafts settlement house in Harlem, in an effort to keep him busy. The young Lawrence often drew patterns with crayons. In the beginning, he copied patterns of his mother's carpets; one of his art teachers noted great potential in Lawrence.

Throughout his career, Jacob Lawrence emphasized the crucial role that the black community of Harlem played in his development as a young man and as an artist. In his images of Harlem, Lawrence painted his vision of poverty, crime, racial tensions, and police brutality based on his experience of urban life around him. He also portrayed a vibrant, thriving community and the aspirations of its people. Harlem was a constant backdrop to many of Lawrence’s paintings.  His themes included black working women, health concerns, leisure time, and the role of religion and spirituality in people's daily lives. In these works, Lawrence portrayed the community in bold colors, repeating patterns, and asymmetrical compositions. He also incorporated the rhythms, breaks, and changes of jazz music into his visual representations of the Harlem environment.

There are Many Churches in Harlem. The People are Very Religious.

There are Many Churches in Harlem. The People are Very Religious.

The Seamstress

The Seamstress

Lawrence concentrated on exploring the history and struggles of African Americans. He often portrayed important periods in African-American history. He was 21 years old when his series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L'Ouverture, who led the revolution of the slaves that eventually gained independence, was shown in an exhibit of African-American artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This impressive work was followed by a series of paintings of the lives of Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as a series of pieces about the abolitionist John Brown.

Harriet Tubman Series

Harriet Tubman Series

Harriet Tubman Series

Harriet Tubman Series

Lawrence was 23 when he completed the 60-panel set of narrative paintings entitled Migration of the Negro, now called the Migration Series. The series was a portrayal of the Great Migration, when hundreds of thousands of African Americans moved from the rural South to the North after World War 1, and showed their adjusting to Northern cities. In the 1940s Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and it brought him national recognition. He became the most celebrated African-American painter in the country, and a part of this series was featured in a 1941 issue of Fortune Magazine. Last year the MoMA exhibited this series for the first time in 20 years.

Migration Series: From every Southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.

Migration Series: From every Southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.

Migration Series: Panel 1

Migration Series: Panel 1

Migration Series: Panel 22

Migration Series: Panel 22

Lawrence married Gwendolyn Knight, a sculptor and painter, in 1941. She actively supported his work, providing both assistance and criticism, and helped him compose captions for many of his series.

Jacob Lawrence with wife Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence with wife Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence

During World War II, Lawrence was drafted into the United States Coast Guard. He was assigned to be the Coast Guard artist aboard a troopship, documenting the experience of war around the world. He produced 48 paintings during this time, all of which have been lost. When his tour of duty ended, Lawrence received a Guggenheim Fellowship and painted his War Series.  Of this series my favorite painting in this series is The Letter. Though the image is minimal in design the message is so strong and poignant.

War Series: The Letter

War Series: The Letter

War Series: The Prayer

War Series: The Prayer

Lawrence grew depressed in 1949, he checked himself into Hillside Hospital in Queens, where he stayed for 11 months. He painted as an inpatient, and the work created during this time offered insight into the circumstances of mental illness and therapy, from the patients’ absorption in the occupational therapies of weaving and gardening to the spiritless of the depressed.  His paintings differed significantly from his other work because it was the only work that depicts exclusively white subjects. It also has subdued colors and people who appear resigned or in agony.  After leaving Hillside, Lawrence returned to the strengths of his earlier work. 

As David Harrison said "Lawrence has taken us from the polite world of abstract painting to a much uglier place and returned us, effortlessly. That he crosses easily between these two concerns, seemingly miles apart, fits neatly within the boundary-crossing theme that Over the Line proposes. But when Jacob Lawrence was at his best, boundaries ceased to be the issue. He was able to absorb contradictions and inequities, history and myth, beauty and atrocity, humor and gravity. He took what he would from all of them and made something as complicated as his experience."

New York Transit

New York Transit

New York Transit

New York Transit

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lawrence spent much of his time painting commissions.  Lawrence taught at several universities, including Pratt Institute (my Alma Mata). In 1970, Jacob settled in Seattle as a professor of art at the University of Washington.  He continued to paint until his death in June 2000 at the age of eighty-two. His last commissioned public work, the mosaic mural New York in Transit, was installed in October 2001 in the Times Square subway station in New York City.

Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence

Black History Art: Malick Sidibé

Kali Abdullah

 

Malick Sidibé (born in 1936) is a Malian photographer noted for his black-and-white images chronicling the exuberant lives and pop culture, often of youth during the 1960s and 70s in Bamako.  His work documents a transitional moment as Mali gained its independence and transformed from a French colony steeped in tradition to a more modern independent country looking toward the West. He captured candid images in the streets, nightclubs, and sporting events and ran a formal portrait studio.

Malik Sidibé 1.jpg
Malik Portraits 2.jpg

Malick Sidibé is a generation behind Seydou Keïta and I’d like to think that he was influenced by Keïta’s photography.  Similar to Keïta, Sidibé was a studio photographer known for his black-and-white portraits, but what set him apart is the sense of youthful pride and fun captured in the photographs. He enjoyed using the studio as a way to pretend and create new lives for his subjects. Also people enjoyed coming to his studio because unlike the others he had electricity, which was a luxury at the time. When talking about his studio portraits he states in an interview:

“As a rule, when I was working in the studio, I did a lot of the positioning. As I have a background in drawing, I was able to set up certain positions in my portraits. I didn’t want my subjects to look like mummies. I would give them positions that brought something alive in them. When you look at my photos, you are seeing a photo that seems to move before your eyes. Those are the sort of poses I gave them. Not poses that were inert or lifeless. No. People who have life need to be positioned that way. It was quite different at my studio. It was like a place of make-believe. People would pretend to be riding motorbikes, racing against each other. It was not like that at the other studios. That’s why my studio was so popular, already by 1964, 1965. The studio was a lot more laid back.”

Malick-Sidib--Nuit-de-No--001.jpg

I was first introduced to Malick Sidibé in 1997 when Janet Jackson put out the “Got ‘til It’s Gone” song featuring Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell.  The music video, directed by Mark Romanek used African photography as a motif, creating what he called a "pre-Apartheid celebration based on that African photography."   The video wanders a massive house party and includes scenes inspired by the work of photographer Malick Sidibé. After falling in love with the video and being an aspiring photographer at the time I dove deep into finding out what Sidibé was all about. I love how Sidibé captured the essence of that time period and the sixties and seventies fashion.  It gave me a whole new perception of African culture, which before then I thought was very traditional and tribal.

Joni Mitchell, Janet Jackson & Mark Romanek discuss the Music Video "Got 'Till It's Gone" Includes music video by Janet Jackson w/Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell - "Got 'Til It's Gone" (Def Radio Mix). (C) Virgin Records. Directed by Mark Romanek. From the album "The Velvet Rope"

I also learned that Malick Sidibé was like the original club photographer in Bamako (days before social media).  In an interview with lensculture.com he states:

“At night, from midnight to 4 am or 6 am, I went from one party to another. I could go to four different parties. If there were only two, it was like having a rest. But if there were four, you couldn't miss any. If you were given four invitations, you had to go. You couldn't miss them.  I'd leave one place, I'd take 36 shots here, 36 shots there, and then 36 somewhere else, until the morning. Sometimes I would come back to parties where there had been a lot of people.  Afterwards I had to develop the photos and print them out. Sometimes, right up to 6 in the morning, I would be at the enlarger. For the 6 x 6 films there was a contact printer, but the 24 x 36 had to be enlarged.  You could work in the morning, but, by Tuesday, the photos had to be ready for display. The proofs were pinned up outside my studio. Lots of people would come and point themselves out. ‘Look at me there! I danced with so-and-so! Can you see me there?’  Even if they didn't buy the photo, they would show it to their friends. That was enough for them. They had danced with a certain girl, and that was enough. I wasn't happy, though. I wanted them to buy these photos!”

The true hustle of a photographer hahah.

Sidibé’s work has been exhibited extensively.  His photos are in numerous public and private collections all over the world and he’s received several honors and awards.  He has become a true inspiration in portrait photography for me especially in men's fashion and style.

In a 2010 interview with John Henley in The Guardian Sidibé explained, “To be a good photographer you need to have a talent to observe, and to know what you want. You have to choose the shapes and the movements that please you, that look beautiful. Equally, you need to be friendly, sympathetic. It's very important to be able to put people at their ease. It's a world, someone's face. When I capture it, I see the future of the world. I believe with my heart and soul in the power of the image, but you also have to be sociable. I'm lucky. It's in my nature."

Malick Sidibé presently resides in Mali.

Black History Art: Seydou Keïta

Kali Abdullah

kieta006.jpg

Seydou Keïta (born  in 1921) was a self-taught portrait photographer from Bamako, Mali. His portraits gained a reputation for excellence throughout West Africa between the1940s and early 1960s. His photos are widely acknowledged not only as a record of Malian society but also as pieces of art.

seydou-couple.jpg
7386.jpg

Keïta developed an interest in photography when his uncle gave him a Kodak Brownie with eight shots of film in 1935, after returning from a trip to Senegal. In the beginning Keïta worked as both a carpenter and photographer, taking first portraits of his family and friends, later of people in the neighborhood. He learned photography and how to develop from Pierre Garnier, a French photographic supply store owner, and from Mountaga Traoré, his mentor. In 1948 he set up his first studio in the family house in Bamako-Koura behind the main prison.

His numerous clients were drawn by the quality of his photos and his great sense of aesthetics. Many were young men, dressed in European style clothing. Some customers brought in items they wanted to be photographed with but Keïta also had a choice of European clothing and accessories (watches, pens, radios, scooters), which he put at their disposal in his studio. The women came in flowing robes often covering their legs, only beginning to wear Western outfits in the late 60s.

Seydou Keïta worked primarily with daylight and for economic reasons took only a single shot for each picture.

I learned about Seydou Keïta through my interest in another African photographer Malick Sidibé (I will do a whole post on him tomorrow).  It is said that Seydou Keïta was discovered in the West in the 1990s. His first solo exhibition took place in 1994 in Paris at the Fondation Cartier. This was followed by many others exhibits in various museums, galleries and foundations worldwide. He is now universally recognized as the father of African photography and considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.

“It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I never was wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands... I was capable of making someone look really good. The photos were always very good. That’s why I always say that it’s a real art.”

Seydou Keïta died November 21, 2001 in Paris, France.

Black History Art: Kerry James Marshall

Kali Abdullah

Portrait of a Curator (In Memory of Beryl Wright)

Portrait of a Curator (In Memory of Beryl Wright)

Kerry James Marshall (born October 17, 1955) is an American artist who uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of black identity both in the United States and in Western art. I was recently introduce to his work while doing research for a project.  He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon, and has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics. As he describes, his work is rooted in his life experience: “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility. You can’t move to Watts in 1963 and not speak about it.”

De Style

De Style

Strongly influenced by his experiences as a young man, he developed a signature style during his early years as an artist that involved the use of extremely dark, essentially black figures. These images represent his perspective of African-Americans with separate and distinct inner and outer appearances. At the same time, they confront racial stereotypes within contemporary American society. This common theme appeared continuously in his large-scale painting throughout the subsequent decades, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.

(l) Untitled, (r) Handsome Young Man

(l) Untitled, (r) Handsome Young Man

Some of Marshall’s notable works include the Garden Project, which critiques the glorified names of housing projects that conceal desperate poverty and the Lost Boys series about young men killed or abandoned by various social systems. This collection was semi inspired by an autobiographical situation where Marshall’s  youngest brother was incarcerated for seven years.  Marshal says it’s about “the concept of being lost: lost in America, lost in the ghetto, lost in public housing, lost in joblessness, and lost in illiteracy. And all of those things sort of changed...all of those things kind of came together with the fact that my own brother now seemed to be one of those lost.

Untitled (Altgeld Gardens)

Untitled (Altgeld Gardens)

Lost Boys: AKA Black Johnny

Lost Boys: AKA Black Johnny

Marshall explored the concept of black beauty in contrast to Western ideals with paintings where a nude female figure, literally blends into her dark surroundings, her sensuous shape barely discernible. Yet once the viewer looks closely, her curvaceous figure evokes a womanly power only enhanced by the deep black of her skin. As Marshall admits, he himself “‘had not considered that a black woman could be considered a goddess of love and beauty,’” but with his painting he proves its possibility. He challenges the classic perception of a goddess as only a Caucasian woman with long flowing hair, speaking again to the issue of African American identity in the Western world.

Small Pin Up Finger Wag

Small Pin Up Finger Wag

Beach Towel

Beach Towel

Marshall studied in Los Angeles with acclaimed social realist painter Charles White and participated in the residency program at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He has received solo exhibitions throughout Europe and North America and his work has been included in prestigious international exhibitions.  His paintings are in private collections and foundations as well as major public collections including the MCA’s.

Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall now lives in Chicago, where he previously taught at the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a 1978 graduate of Otis College of Art and Design.

Black History Art: Romare Bearden

Kali Abdullah

Pittsburgh Memory, 1964

Pittsburgh Memory, 1964

Romare Bearden (born September 2) was an American artist and writer who depicted African-American life. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden moved to New York City at a young age.  Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, which are my favorite of his collections. Snippets from magazine photographs, painted papers, foil, posters, and art reproductions were among his materials. Bearden’s collages fractured space and form, leading one writer to describe them as “patchwork cubism.”

Spring Way, 1964

Spring Way, 1964

The Dove, 1964

The Dove, 1964

Romare Bearden was somewhat of a Renaissance man. An innovative artist with diverse interests, he also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, created book illustration, comics, album art, and public murals. Bearden was the author/coauthor of several books, and was a songwriter who co-wrote the jazz classic "Sea Breeze", which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie.  Jazz and the blues provided Bearden with many subjects. He grew up hearing rural blues and uptown jazz: Duke Ellington’s orchestra, Earl Hines’ piano, Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing. For sixteen years, his studio was above the Apollo Theater, still a Harlem musical landmark.

Showtime, 1974

Showtime, 1974

Billie Holiday Album

Billie Holiday Album

Bearden studied with a Chinese calligrapher, whom he credits with introducing him to new ideas about space and composition in painting. He also spent a lot of time studying famous European paintings he admired, particularly the work of artists such as Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Rembrandt. He also revered African art such as sculpture, mask and textiles.

(l to r) The Family, 1948; Three Men, 1967; Circe, 1977

(l to r) The Family, 1948; Three Men, 1967; Circe, 1977

Bearden became a founding member of the Harlem-based art group known as The Spiral, formed to discuss the responsiblities of the African-American artist in the struggle for civil rights.  Critical of special or separate treatment he was nevertheless aware of their limited opportunities and made important commitments to leveling the playing field for black artists.  His lifelong support of young, emerging artists led him and his wife to create the Bearden Foundation to support young or emerging artists and scholars. In 1987, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden

Bearden died in New York City on March 12, 1988 at the age of 76. In the obituary for him, the New York Times called Bearden "one of America's pre-eminent artists" and "the nation's foremost collagist."

 

Black History Art: Leo & Diane Dillon

Kali Abdullah

Island Under the Earth

Island Under the Earth

Leo and Diane Dillon are/were among the most talented and versatile American illustrators of my childhood. They produced book covers, editorial illustrations, movie posters, album covers, and advertising featuring subject matter that ranged from the sweetest children’s literature, African folktales to Scandinavian epics, from fantasy to science fiction

Behind the Back of the Mountain

Behind the Back of the Mountain

Leo Dillon, of Trinidadian immigrant parentage, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Diane Sorber Dillon hails from the Greater Los Angeles Area.  Born eleven days apart in 1933, they met, competed, and fell in love while attending Parsons School of Design in New York. Over the years, their competitive friendship evolved into a lasting marriage and artistic partnership. Realizing their strength was in collaboration the Dillons created a broad spectrum of art using whatever medium or technique that “worked”—including pastels, colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic, stencils, typography, woodcut, collage, and sculpture—for a broad cross-section of clients.

Their work has been an outstanding contribution to children of all races and cultures.  Coming from a household of avid readers my parents made it a point to have a diverse collection of books in the home, including many that had characters that look like me and my siblings. My bedtime reading consisted of some of my favorite stories from books such as Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears, Who's In Rabbits House, and folk tales from The People Who Could Fly. My all time favorite book was the sassy poems by Eloise Greenfield in Honey, I Love.  I admired the fact that the little girls in the book had afro puffs and braids in their hair much like me, beautiful smiles and looked so happy.

Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ear

Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ear

Honey, I Love

Honey, I Love

The Dillon's also became famous in the science fiction community for their inventive series of paperback covers for the Ace Science Fiction Specials as well as for their numerous magazine illustrations and book covers for the works of Harlan Ellison.  But outside the world of fantasy and science fiction, the Dillons unquestionably became best known for their numerous picture books for children. Celebrated for illustrating stories featuring all ethnicities and cultural heritages, they received unprecedented back-to-back accolades and awards.

(l to r) Left Hand of Darkness, Furthest, One Million Tomorrows

(l to r) Left Hand of Darkness, Furthest, One Million Tomorrows

The major message the Dillons wanted to convey was that all people, whatever their culture or race, experience the same things. "We all have a lot in common. It is our beliefs that divide us. We have little control over what life brings us but we can change our thoughts." Also, since the beginning of history, people have expressed themselves in wonderful and unique ways. "Art in its many forms has survived to inform us of lives long gone. Art inspires, lifts our spirits, and brings beauty to our lives. We wish to pay homage to it and the people who created it."

Leo & Diane Dillon

Leo & Diane Dillon

In the course of their careers, the Dillons taught at the School of Visual Arts and lectured at colleges around the country. Leo died in 2012 at the age of 79 of lung cancer. The obituary of Leo in The New York Times praised the Dillons jointly as "one of the world's pre-eminent illustrators for young people, producing artwork — praised for its vibrancy, ecumenicalism and sheer sumptuous beauty — that was a seamless amalgam of both their hands", also noting the ethnic diversity of characters in the Dillons' work in the 1970s, "until then, the smiling faces portrayed in picture books had been overwhelmingly white."


Black History Art: Aaron Douglas

Kali Abdullah

The Creation, by Aaron Douglas

The Creation, by Aaron Douglas

Aaron Douglas (born May 26, 1899) was an African-American painter, illustrator and graphic artist who played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.

Douglas had a unique artistic style that fused his interests in modernism and African art. His best-known paintings are semi-abstract, and feature flat forms, hard edges, and repetitive geometric shapes. Bands of color radiate from the important objects in each painting, and where these bands intersect with other bands or other objects, the color changes.  A student of German-born painter Winold Reiss, he incorporated parts of Art Deco along with elements of ancient Egyptian wall paintings in his work. Many of his figures appeared as bold silhouettes.

  (l) Into Bondage (1936), (r) Aspirations (1936), Aaron Douglas

  (l) Into Bondage (1936), (r) Aspirations (1936), Aaron Douglas

Douglas contributed illustrations to Opportunity, the National Urban League's magazine, and to The Crisis, put out by the NAACP.  These were the two most important magazines associated with the Harlem Renaissance at the time.  He created powerful images of African-American life and struggles, and won awards for the work he created for these publications. His designs brought him to the attention of W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Alain Locke who were looking for young African American artists to express their African heritage and African American folk culture in their art.  He ultimately received a commission to illustrate an anthology of philosopher Locke's work, entitled The New Negro.

Aaron Douglas - Fire.jpg

By 1939, Douglas started teaching at Fisk University, where he remained for the next 27 years.

Aaron Douglas was considered the "Father of African American arts." That title led him to say," Do not call me the Father of African American Arts, for I am just a son of Africa, and paint for what inspires me."

His striking illustrations, murals, and paintings of the life and history of people of color depict an emerging black American individuality in a powerfully personal way. Douglas linked black Americans with their African past and proudly showed black contributions to society decades before the dawn of the civil rights movement. His work made a lasting impression on future generations of black artists including myself (he is one of my favorites).

David C. Driskell, artist and a leading educator and scholar of African American art said, "At a time when it was unpopular to dignify the black image in white America, Douglas refused to compromise and see blacks as anything less than a proud and majestic people."

Douglas died in February 1979 in Nashville, at the age of 79