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Aaron Myers

While a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the 1930s, Elizabeth Catlett first encountered African sculptural art and the contemporary work of Mexican muralists. These two art traditions inform most of Catlett's oeuvre. Her sculpted figures have the same voluminous, rounded forms of the people portrayed in the murals of Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera. At the same time, the faces of Catlett's sculpted figures have an owl-like, lunar quality that seems to be derived from African mask design. This stylized facial quality can also be observed in some of Catlett's graphic work, especially in her lithographs. In her linocuts, on the other hand, the faces and bodies of figures are rendered in a more realistic manner; these linocuts are stylistically related to the work of printmakers at the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City, where Catlett studied from 1946 to 1947 She combined ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, printmaker, and teacher, was born Alice Elizabeth Catlett to Mary Carson, a truant officer, and John Catlett, a math teacher and amateur musician who died shortly before Elizabeth's birth. Elizabeth and her two older siblings were raised by their mother and paternal grandmother in a middle-class neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Encouraged by her mother and her teachers at Dunbar High School to pursue a career as an artist, she entered Howard University in 1931, where she studied with the African American artists James Lesesne Wells, Loïs Mailou Jones, and James A. Porter. After graduating cum laude with a BS in Art in 1935, Catlett taught art in the Durham, North Carolina, public schools before beginning graduate training at the University of Iowa in 1938 Under the tutelage of the artist Grant Wood Catlett switched her concentration from painting to sculpture and ...

Article

Freida High (Wasikhongo Tesfagiorgis)

I don’t have anything against men but, since I am a woman, I know more about women and I know how they feel. Many artists are always doing men. I think that somebody ought to do women. Artists do work with women, with the beauty of their bodies and the refinement of middle-class women, but I think there is a need to express something about the working-class Black woman and that’s what I do.

(Gladstone, p. 33)

As a reputed sculptor and printmaker whose career began in the 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett is a major figure in modern American and Mexican art. Catlett’s work embraces the human condition, revealing a deep passion for dignifying humanity, especially working-class women and, in particular, African American and Mexican women. Titles of her sculpture suggest this interest: Black Woman Speaks (1970), Mother and Child (1940, 1993), Mujer (1964 ...

Article

Amy Helene Kirschke

sculptor and printmaker. Catlett was born six months after her father died of tuberculosis. The Washington, D.C., native was the daughter of two educators. Her father was a teacher at Tuskegee Institute and in the Washington, D.C., public schools, and her mother was trained at the Scotia Seminary in North Carolina as a teacher. Upon Elizabeth's father's death, her mother immediately sought a job, eventually working as a truant officer in the Washington, D.C., public school system. Catlett's mother always strongly emphasized education for her three children. The granddaughter of freed slaves, Catlett credited her resolve in sculpture to her family's commitment to education, noting that her profession has traditionally been reserved for white men.

Catlett identified with four underserved groups women blacks Mexicans and poor people She did not see herself as exceptional rather she saw herself as exceptionally fortunate A precocious student she skipped two grades and ...

Article

Born in Houston, Texas, Melvin Edwards studied painting at the University of Southern California (USC), and began sculpting in 1960. Five years later he received his B.F.A. degree from USC. Edwards first gained critical attention with a series of sculptures entitled Lynch Fragments, which he had begun in 1963. By 1997 the series included more than 150 individual works made from both forged and welded parts of knife sheaths, automotive gears, chains, ball bearings, horseshoes, and other metal. The works, each of which is about the size of a human head and hangs on a wall, explore themes of violence and incorporate both American and African symbolism.

In 1967 Edwards moved from California to New Jersey, and his work began to shift away from the manipulated, unpainted metal. A solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1968 included geometric shapes painted ...

Article

Aaron Myers

David Hammons was born in Springfield, Illinois. After growing up in the Midwest, he moved to Los Angeles in 1964 to study art. In the 1960s, the progress of the Civil Rights Movement and the inception of the Black Power Movement encouraged artists of African descent to both produce a more racially conscious art and challenge stereotypes of African Americans. After completing his studies in 1972, Hammons began to create prints of his body using margarine or grease. In 1975 he made Harlem his home and started forging sculptures from materials he collected on the street. He executed these assemblages in public spaces using such found objects as spades, chains, bottle caps, deflated inner tubes, barbecue bones, and African American hair in an effort to explore African American identity.

The spade is a reoccurring motif in Hammons s body prints and sculptures He said I remember being called ...

Article

Morgan Falconer

American installation artist, performance artist and sculptor. He studied in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art Institute and the Otis Art Institute before settling in New York in 1974. He first gained a reputation for his series of Body Prints in the early 1970s. Often resembling X-rays in their detail and translucency, they are direct imprints of the body made on paper with grease. Injustice Case (1973; Los Angeles, CA, Mus. Contemp. A.) is typical in dealing with a contemporary racial issue, with the American flag framing the image presented in opposition to cultural and racial stereotypes; see also African–American Flag, 1990. Contemporaneous with these were the Spade series which featured garden spades as defiant metaphors for his race appropriating a derogatory term used by prejudiced whites These served as a prelude to the found object sculptures he began to make in the ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

sculptor, painter, and printmaker, was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies, the only child of Malcolm, a pharmacist, and Miriam Knight, a homemaker. Knight lost her father when she was two, and her mother suffered a severe leg injury that permanently limited her mobility when a hurricane struck the island while she was still very young. As a result Gwen grew up with foster parents and moved with this family to the United States in 1920, settling in St. Louis, Missouri. Always writing, drawing, and dancing she completed her first paintings between the ages of eight and nine years of age. At thirteen she moved with her family to New York, where she attended Wadleigh Annex and Wadleigh Street School for Girls. She was an avid reader of newspapers and modern literature, especially the work of Countée Cullen, Virginia Woolf, and Zora Neale Hurston ...

Article

Krystofer A. Meadows

abstract artist, printmaker, and sculptor, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the youngest of eight children of Ruth Voight, a schoolteacher, and Erlan Thompson, a pharmacist. As a little girl, she knew that she wanted to be an artist. Her earliest efforts were in photography, processing and developing prints in the darkroom that her father built for-her. Thompson graduated from Old Stanton High School in 1953. Her father wanted her to attend Florida A&M, but she insisted on going to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although she had spent many years painting, Thompson entered Howard without any formal training in art. At Howard she studied with James A. Porter, an artist and the author of the 1942 book Modern Negro Art the definitive study of African American art in its time Porter was influential in Thompson s development as an artist and was ...

Article

Melissa A. Kerr

artist and educator, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, one of four children of Reginald and Violet Wilson, immigrants from British Guiana. Wilson's parents held working-class positions in the Boston area but were forced onto public relief at the onset of the Great Depression. In 1938 Wilson attended the Roxbury Boys Club, where he took art classes taught by graduate students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These students passed on the techniques of their teacher, the Russian émigré painter Alexandre Iacovleff, whose lessons stressed the meticulous rendering of the human form. Wilson's student drawings, often emulative of Iacovleff's conté crayon technique, were so impressive that his instructors brought a portfolio of his work to the attention of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which led to a full scholarship in 1939.

At the School of the Museum of Fine Arts ...