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4 Black Artists Who Shaped the Art World

With our blog post this week, we wanted to highlight and celebrate some incredible Black artists who shaped the art scene in the world. When you think of celebrated artists, our education, and society has often excluded BIPOC artists. Using this opportunity to highlight some of these incredible artists allows us to reflect on the history we’ve been taught. This reflection helps move us toward a more thorough understanding of not only the art world, but the world we live in.

Jacob Lawrence

Panel 58 (Educational Opportunities) — Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series The Phillips Collection (DC) October 2016

One of the most widely acclaimed African American artists, his paintings depicted the struggles of African Americans as well as every day life in an abstract style. Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, he would create series of paintings about different topics such as Harriet Tubman, Harlem, Frederick Douglass among others. At 24, he became the first African American artist to be represented by a “mainstream” gallery in New York. He continued to find success in his series’ and later taught at many different schools

Aaron Douglas

An important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas created public murals to celebrate the African American experience and bring up issues of segregation and racism. He became an artist in residence at Fisk University in 1930 to create a cycle of murals and would later become a faculty member. Inspired by cubism and integrating the rhythms of jazz, Douglas created a distinct art style that made him a leader in the world of modern African-American art.

Aaron Douglas, Aspiration, 1936, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 152.4 cm (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Heart Attack, 1984, Untitled, 1981, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT + Andy Warhol.

A graffiti prodigy, Jean-Michel Basquiat was known for his obsessive scribbling style. His life took him from sleeping on the New York City streets to working with one of the most celebrated painters of the 1960’s, Andy Warhol. He met Andy Warhol in 1983 and collaborated on a series of paintings before they both passed away. His unique style was informed by his position in life and the disparity between rich and poor was often reflected in his work.

Augusta Savage

Another artist shaped by the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage was well known for her work in sculptures. Despite her father’s opposition to her art, Savage would find success in New York City sculpting busts of prominent Black figures of the time. She continued on to become an influential teacher in Harlem, creating her own studio. Though her later years were impacted by job loss and underfunding of the arts, her influence in the Harlem art world and talent lives on.

Augusta Savage, Portrait Head of John Henry, c. 1940. Photograph © 2018 Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Found at https://collections.mfa.org/objects/555152

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Featured Image: By Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) – Delaware Art Museum, Delart, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6055991

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