Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Familiarize yourself with some of the United States’ most distinguished and admired Black fine artists.
By Marika Page
For our July issue, I wanted to highlight a small selection of Black American artists who should be household names. Their artwork is in world-famous museums and universities and on album covers, but their names might not be so well known. I want to help change that and to show that we see and appreciate their art, and stand with them in solidarity.
Black artists and their experiences are important and vital both to the art world and history. I hope you will take a look at and familiarize yourself with their work highlighted here, and that it will inspire you to search for other Black artists of whom you are not yet aware.
In addition, I’ve included a selection of fantastic Black artists who feature their work on Instagram as well as on their own websites (linked on their IG profiles).
Kerry James Marshall, painter
A native of Los Angeles and graduate of Otis College of Art and Design, Marshall is known for large-scale paintings that depict the African-American experience and history. His work is heavily influenced by being Black in America and uses symbolism of colonialism and issues of race in America from the 1960s onward. You can find Marshall’s work on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and Modern Art Oxford (England).
Kehinde Wiley, painter
If Kehinde Wiley’s name sounds familiar to you, it may be because he was the artist chosen by former President Barack Obama to paint Obama’s official portrait (which is housed at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.). Wiley is known for his stunningly vivid portraits of members of the Black community surrounded by floral prints and bright colors. His subjects exude confidence, and his works depict young African-Americans in modern culture. Wiley has said his influence comes from the Old Masters and often paints his subjects in reference to them. He recalls his inspiration for his portraiture from visiting the Huntington Library as a youth. His work is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., currently.
One artwork of Wiley’s to study: “President Barack Obama,” 2018, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (shown). Additional credit for this piece printed on page 7 of our print issue. Another artwork of Wiley’s to study: “John, 1st Baron Byron,” 2013, Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Alma Thomas, painter
An expressionist painter known for her abstract works, Thomas studied Fine Art at Howard University and came to prominence in the 1960s. Her work focuses on color theory and has been compared to the famous Bauhaus teacher and artist Kandinsky. Thomas’s work is often described as “full of energy” and was inspired by American culture such as the moon landing in 1969, at which point she started using pointillism in her works. In 1972, at the age of 81, Thomas was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her work can be seen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the New Orleans Museum of Art; and The Newark Museum of Art; to name a few.
One artwork of Thomas’s to study: The Eclipse, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of the artist (shown).
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, sculptor
An African-American female sculptor known for sculpting the Black American experience during the Harlem Renaissance, Fuller was a protégé of the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Fuller worked and achieved a reputation in Paris where she lived and studied with Rodin after college before returning to America. She was the first African-American woman to receive a government-funded commission. Her work can be seen at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington state and the Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University. All of Danforth’s Fuller collection is on display virtually.
“Bust of a Young Boy,” 1914, painted plaster, by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (shown). Part of a collection at Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State Univ. Gift of the Meta V.W. Fuller Trust, 2006.
View the collection here.
Kadir Nelson, author and painter
Nelson, a native of Los Angeles, is an African-American painter and author whose work focuses on historical subjects. Nelson’s work is displayed in institutions such as the United States House of Representatives and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and has most recently illustrated the commemorative stamps of Marvin Gaye for the United States Postal Service. Nelson has also illustrated the cover of Drake’s album “Nothing Was the Same” and has worked on the cover illustrations for countless children’s books, such as those by Debbie Allen and Will Smith. He has his own website with his gallery, and his work can be seen at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
IG artists to follow:
Frank Morrison (@frankmorrison)
Bisa Butler (@bisabutler)
Cristina Martinez (@sew_trill)
Al-Baseer Holly (@theartofalbaseer)
Shaina McCoy (@wallflowermccoy)
"She Breathes On," Al-baseer Holly, IG: @theartofalbaseer
Devan Shimoyama (@devanshimoyama)
Kayla Mahaffey (@kaylamay_art)
Grace Lynne (@bygracelynne)
Editor’s additional local Southbay recommendation: Olivia (@bluu_scope)
Art is universal and for everyone. All Black lives matter.
Marika Page is a Los Angeles native and the editorial intern for The El Segundo Scene. She is a recent English and History Honors BA graduate from Sheffield Hallam University in England. She is passionate about storytelling, reading, and sharing her love of books through her “bookstagram” account and on her review blog. You can find her reviewing advance copies as well as backlist books at @mybookcorner on Instagram and at https://mybookcornerweb.wordpress.com.