Inspired by the late David Driskell’s landmark 1976 exhibition, “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” the documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light offers an illuminating introduction to the work of some of the foremost Black visual artists working today.
Yep, it’s another photorealist artist on the blog (although apparently his work is sometimes referred to as ‘Hyper-Surrealism’) and another from Canada (the other being Charles Bierk). Jeff Bartels is today’s artist and his oil paintings are phenomenal in realism and size.
Darian Mederos is a Cuban-born artist based in Nashville. He’s best known for his photorealist portraits that demonstrate his subjects’ emotions. For his ‘Obscura Series’, he used painted portraits to look like they have bubble wrap over them.
The bubble wrap reflects light and distorts the underlying image, it is only at a distance that the works come into focus. When viewed up close the faces dissolve into bold strokes of flesh tones and painted light. The artist challenges the viewer with the “Obscura Series” in asking us to understand the core of human identity, from a respectful distance.
For more, check out Mederos’ work on Instagram.
Sam Chirnside is a designer and creative director based in Melbourne. His world bridges the gaps between physical art and digital design and through that mixed media, he explores a space beyond our immediate recognition.
(All image rights reserved by Sam Chirnside.)
While on my internet travels, I stumbled upon a Basquiat artwork I’d never seen before.
Milk and Asbestos was painted between 1980-1984 in acrylic and gouache on a smaller surface than usual for Basquiat; a board at 16x12x2 inches. The piece depicts a skull as the focal point with words such as “JAIL JAIL”, “SOAP SOAP”, and the title “MILK + ASBESTOS” painted in the space.
It’s currently held by Mandarin Fine Art Gallery, having been in various private collections since its completion. And it’s for sale (you’ll have to contact the gallery for a price if you’re interested).
For more on Jean-Michel Basquiat, check out Sammy Willbourne’s top 5 Basquiat paintings.
Arinze Stanley Egbengwu is a hyperrealist artist from Lagos, Nigeria.
Starting at an early age of 6, Arinze had always been enthusiastic about drawing realistic portraits on paper. Being exposed to his family’s paper conversion business, Arinze grew to love paper and pencils as his toys at a very tender age. Over the years He gradually taught himself how to master both Pencils and Paper in harmony as a medium to express himself through what he calls his three P’s namely Patience, Practice and Persistence. These have guided him throughout his journey as an artist.
Whenever I see photorealist art on Twitter, I quote tweet it with something like “DRAWING?!” or “PAINTING?!” and this is no different. The detail is incredible and shows Black people as Black people. No special lighting, just Blackness in art.
See also: Charles Bierk’s photorealism
Black gay artist Mark Bradford spoke to Francesca Aton of Art in America about his use of paper in his paintings.
Mark Bradford was born in Los Angeles on 20th November 1961. He’s best known for combining paint and paper collage to create his work, as well as using the themes of masculinity and gender.
End papers, small rectangular sheets of translucent paper that protect hair during the perm process, are the basis of Los Angeles–based painter Mark Bradford’s early artworks. While working in his mother’s beauty salon, Bradford began integrating the papers into abstract paintings, creating a layered scrim through which the paint emerges. The artist, guided by an interest in common materials, has incorporated items from around Los Angeles—including fragments of posters, broadsides, and billboards—to tackle issues of civil unrest.
Bradford on his use of paper and how that evolved:
I hadn’t given much thought to the materiality of the end papers until I started experimenting with other types of paper. End papers are similar to tissue paper, and are very absorbent and translucent. When I was painting, it was a lot easier to achieve layers of color due to those qualities of the end papers. As I started adding more opaque materials, like billboard and poster paper, the paintings looked flat. That’s when I began dunking paper in water. I thought maybe if the pulp disintegrated, a little bit of light could pass through. This addition really shifted my practice. To this very day, I still use water because it’s the only thing that pulls the paper apart and makes it flow like paint.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a lot of triggers because in some ways it reminded me of the AIDS epidemic. It’s been great to see that so many have mobilized in this moment for positive change and have found creative and interesting ways to make their voices heard. I’ve learned to be kind of fluid and keep creating work. I like to say that I’m not on Pacific Standard Time, but rather on Pandemic Standard Time—and I chuckle when people send me calendar invites for upcoming events.
Read the full interview on Art in America.
Sotheby’s will auction off pieces from Keith Haring’s art collection, including works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
According to The Spaces, the sale will raise money for The Center in New York, a cornerstone of the city’s LGBTQ community. The auction will open on 24th September and is expected to raise about $1m. If you have that kind of cash, you can view the works online or arrange to see them in person at Sotheby’s Manhattan HQ.
If you’re wondering why Haring’s art collection is being auctioned off at all, it’s a legal thing:
Legal counsel had warned the nonprofit for years that keeping a collection made by artists other than its founder might fail to serve its charitable purpose. So last year the foundation began arranging with Sotheby’s to sell the artworks in an online auction called “Dear Keith,” with all proceeds benefiting the Center, an L.G.B.T.Q. community organization in the West Village.
And the reason for choosing The Center was a personal connection to Haring:
“Keith Haring fostered hope and resilience during difficult times,” said Glennda Testone, executive director of the Center. “He painted his 1989 mural, ‘Once Upon a Time,’ on our walls to celebrate sexual liberation and envision a world without AIDS, in direct opposition to the fear and stigma that fueled that pandemic.”
Aaron Douglas was an African-American artist who became a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. His work included illustrations and paintings depicting the racism and segregation suffered in the US.
In 1922, he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and worked as an instructor at Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri before his talent came to the attention of important people in Harlem, New York. Two years after gaining his fine arts degree, he left his teaching job for New York at the behest of Charles S. Johnson, the first Black president of Fisk University.
He went onto become one of the most influential artists of the era and returned to teaching in 1944, when founded the Art Department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He taught visual art there until his retirement in 1966.
Recommended reading and viewing
- Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist
- Aaron Douglas: Art, Race, and the Harlem Renaissance
- Black in America, Painted Euphoric and Heroic [requires a NYT login]
- Aaron Douglas: Life as a Renaissance Artist by Sandy Joseph
- Aaron Douglas: Major artist of the Harlem Renaissance
- David Driskell Discusses Major Aaron Douglas Painting Acquired by The Met
Below is a video about one of Aaron Douglas’s most beautiful pieces, “Aspiration”.
Hyperrealism is very much my thing when it comes to art and Peter D. Harris’s work fits the bill. The Canadian-based artist has been painting urban landscapes for over 25 years and his depictions of empty urban areas are astonishingly accurate.
His work portrays the common elements of the city: parking lots, building, gas stations, restaurants, subways, etc. These often overlooked aspects of the urban environment are presented as an opportunity to re-examine the spaces we inhabit. Painted in a crisp, realist manner, his paintings are recognizable for their depictions of urban settings at night, absent of people.
After graduating from the University of Waterloo with a Fine Arts degree in 1997, Peter went onto showcase his work across North America and some of his work can be found in private collections in Europe as well.
Check out his work and his personal essay on driving his mother back from Florida during the pandemic.
I’ve always had a strange relationship with the art world. I grew up in single-parent family. My dad still lives in the flat I grew up in. By definition, in the society we live in, I should never have been into high art. Or ever knew about it.
We always try and skirt around this issue and say that’s not true. We live in a meritocracy, and everyone gets exactly how much they work for. But… in the age of being completely honest, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It all depends on how you come into it. I used to sit in the library at school, to avoid bullies. I read book after book after book. When I ran out of all the horror and the history, I turned to the art books. I started reading about Witkin and people like Matisse who had a different way of thinking. But they were still all white and rich. So there was a disconnect.
Then, there was Basquiat.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s face stared through my soul. He was a Black man. He did graffiti. He was outspoken. He had background noise and was making art in his own way. His relationship with the art world (one of his pieces sold for 110 million, the most expensive piece sold by an American artist.)
I have a real obsession with outsiders going on to redefine the value and form of art. It’s often the outsiders that have the most to say, in the most interest ways. They make things we’ve never even dreamed of. It’s because they didn’t grow up in the arts. They weren’t taught the rules, and neither was I. My love for Basquiat goes deeper though. He was Black mixed race like me. He was self-taught like me. There’s so many parallels. He used very abstract images to explain himself, but he was very specific about what they meant. He know his vision so clearly, even if it wasn’t clear to others.
Here are my 5 favourite pieces.
5. Untitled (1982)
I think it cements his whole identity, as an artist and a person in the world. It’s also the piece that proved everyone wrong. It sold for $110 million in 2017, making him the most expensive American artist. Yeah, not Black artist, just American artist. This solidifies this piece for me. He did it. He did it for all the streets kids. Completely cut across every single elitist, intimidating, exclusionary art gallery and institution. A self-taught graffiti street kid of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, did it bigger than anyone. I was so happy when it happened.
The piece itself, probably isn’t Basquiat’s strongest, honestly. But the aesthetic and the brashness of it, encompasses everything that Basquiat had become in the public eye. There’s very little thematic significance to this piece (i think there’s definitely something deeper BUT, he had far more siginificant social commentary in others.). But what it has done for his legacy, and the statement to kids that just work on instinct, is monumental.
4. Obnoxious Liberals (1982)
It’s probably the most “political” Basquiat is at, if you ask the art scene. It was a direct comment on the rich arts scene at the time. It was signifying their relationship between artists like himself, who had come up from the streets, and how they treated him, in their elitist attitudes. After, when he started getting acclaim, they would swarm around him, but he had a long memory. It’s a direct, to a point, tongue in cheek critique that they were so hallowly hungry for art, that they would allow themselves to be parodied by an artist they had racially and socio-econimcally cast out. He makes his own stance very clear as well with slogans such as “not for sale” and dollar signs, directly challenging the notion that art should be capitalist.
3. Tuxedo (1982)
It’s striking in the way it defies Basquait’s uniform he stitched for himself. His iconic crown is sprayed on the top of the paper and it shows his influences boldly. He loved hip-hop, scat music and poetry. He worked in symbols and poetry and it’s no clearer than here. It’s probably his most abstract work. He often put social commentary through art into his work. The crown, I think, isn’t something to be celebrated. He’s not calling himself a king. He’s using it ironically to symbolise the inequalities he faced. How can you wear a crown if people are dying? Shine it up good, make it twinkle. So we’re not seeing a person wearing a tuxedo, we’re seeing what he thinks a tuxedo is figuratively.
2. Riddle Me This Batman (1987)
Riddle Me This Batman was made with acrylic crayon on paper. It shows Robin and Joker, but it completely subverts it. I think he’s making a comment on us as a society and who we put our stock in. Growing up in New York, he definitely saw his fair share of corruption and brutality. I always think he’s commenting on our societal need for a hero and a villain; we can never just be… We can never create revolutions as citizens. We always expect someone to rise up and we follow them, to buffer the damage. The same as calling out injustice or defeating evil… We always need a Batman. He subverts this, crossing out Batman’s emblem twice, and portraying Robin as a drunkard.
1. Untitled (Fallen Angel) (1981)
I’m not an OG fan. I learnt about him when his work came with the Boom! For Real exhibition at the Barbican, but I instantly felt connected to him. Like an old friend. Untitled (Fallen Angel) is one of the most striking paintings I’ve ever seen. I was struggling badly with my mental health, and the painting alleviated some of that, which is monumental. It’s a mix of pain and freedom. It says, to me, that freedom is beautiful to the oppressed, but the white and upper-class supremacist system sees us as monsters when we do fight for our freedom. It gave me a lot of comfort when I was struggling with whether to assimilate or go my own way. When I learnt about Jean-Michel and where he had come from, I decided to go my own way and never looked back.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is a testament to talent. People have often commented on “talent being in an unexpected place” but that is rooted in racism. they said the same about Alexander McQueen, and it was deep rooted in classism. Basquait is enigmatic, passionate, multi-faceted and he left us way too soon.
He died of an overdose, brought on with the struggles of fame within the art world. He was being lauded by the same people who were calling him racial slurs behind his bag; an absolute madness to deal with. He died at 27, a year younger than me. I think about that alot. All the art he’s left. What he would have said about the world today. Maybe that wasn’t written though.
As so many great artists leave young, maybe we were only supposed to have his greatness for a short time. To spark the next minds and then leave. To tell us, in his very short life, what street kids were capable of, and not to take it too seriously. Keep that tongue in cheek spirit with the critiques too. And give it to them, every single day, the only way a street kid can.
The itinerant life is coveted by many but it isn’t for everyone. The main obstacle is the insecurity of hopping from place to place without a home to return to every night; it’s there but not always within arm’s reach. But for Pat Perry, that has been a source of inspiration, even if that means being held at gunpoint and getting arrested.
Who in the world is Pat Perry?
Pat Perry was born in Michigan but now lives in Detroit, working itinerantly according to his website. He has worked with the likes of the BBC, Twitter, and Atlantic Records and could have worked for even bigger brands but turned them down telling Communication Arts, “I only want to make work that reflects what I care about.” He expanded, discussing the time he rejected a $40,000 offer to work with Taco Bell:
“I would never judge anyone harshly for taking work like this, and even for me, it was a hard situation I mulled over because I could have used the money, but I just don’t want to be remembered for that. Maybe it would have been a flash in the pan, but maybe I would have become the Taco Bell guy.”
Some of his influences include Max Horkheimer and Friedrich Nietzsche, and philosophy has a significant influence on Perry’s work, particular in his processes:
“Sometimes I just run away […] It is how I get to be alone and be a silent observer for a while.”
When Perry isn’t sketching, he paints on panels and walls. His acrylic work borders on the hyperreal, depicting the regular lives and scenery of the USA. His outdoor works have taken him to the corners of the earth, with murals in Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, and Iraq. What strikes me about his work is how considered and thoughtful it is. For an American to paint a mural in Iraq and for it to complement the surroundings so well is astonishing and refreshing.
Pat Perry’s work evokes and provokes. You feel safe in his creative world, with the soft, earthy palettes, and representations of humanity in its rawest forms. But his paintings and illustrations demand your attention as you search for unseen artefacts and subtle details. Every piece has a story to tell and you’ll want to cosy up to it to fully enjoy the experience.
Who is Upendo?
Upendo Taylor was born in Watts, California but moved to New York to make the city “his canvas” according to his website. He draws inspiration from everything in his life and puts them back into his art in the best possible way.
In 2005, Upendo teamed up with Ron Upperman to create their Leroy Jenkins clothing brand (named after the infamous Leroy Jenkins meme). The biggest endorsement of the brand came from Jay-Z who wore a Leroy Jenkins cap in 2012.
Upendo has worked with the likes of Adidas, Burton, Gatorade, Stones Throw Records, and Black Milk over the years and he’s one of my favourite modern artists and artistic inspirations.
Some of Upendo’s work
The fact they’re white is more than a little poignant. Vox asked the question “Why do all-white paintings sell for millions of dollars and end up in museums?” The answer isn’t “because high art is pretentious and has a serious problem with diversity and inclusivity” as I’d have hoped.
Instead, Elisabeth Sherman of the Whitney Museum of American Art said “there is much more to these paintings than meets the eye, and while you could have painted one of these priceless pieces of art, you didn’t” (quoted from the Vox video description).
While I agree with the latter, the former feeds into the general pretension of modern art. A lot is inferred but the reason behind some works of art could just be “I liked how it looked” without a need for a deeper, hidden meaning. But that would devalue otherwise mediocre white art, wouldn’t it?