Tag Archives: Black Artists

Female Gaze Friday: Amy Sherald

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week’s works are The Rabbit in the Hat, Pony Boy, and High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Negroes by painter Amy Sherald:

Amy Sherald, The Rabbit in the Hat, 2009, oil on canvas, 54"x43"

Amy Sherald, The Rabbit in the Hat, 2009, oil on canvas, 54″x43″

Amy Sherald, Pony Boy, 2008, oil on canvas, 54"x43"

Amy Sherald, Pony Boy, 2008, oil on canvas, 54″x43″

Amy Sherald, High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain't No Cotton Pickin' Negroes, 2011, oil on canvas, 59"x69"

Amy Sherald, High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Negroes, 2011, oil on canvas, 59″x69″

Amy Sherald’s paints portraits of black men and women in which she removes all color from their skin. In Sherald’s words,  her work “began as an exploration to exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing “color” but still portraying racialised bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture”. Her figures started out with fairytale-like details which constructed an alternate version of black history. From there, her work evolved to place black figures in environments like circuses, which more directly called out themes of blackness and racialisation.

Sherald’s work focuses on self-identity and constructed identities. She draws from her own experiences as one of the few black children in her private schools and how her identity was formed by those experiences.

I saw one of Sherald’s paintings at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and was struck by the sparing use of color and the flatness of certain portions of her paintings. If you ever have the chance to see her work, go! Her paintings are even more striking in person.

You can see more of Amy Sherald’s work here.

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Sasha Panyuta’s Bryan.

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Women in Art: Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas is one of the inescapable artists represented in DC art museums; and rightly so! Being an important member of the Washington Color School and the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney (as well as purportedly being the first black woman to graduate from a fine art program in the US) is no small feat. Her work is popular amongst Color School fans as well as those of the encompassing Color Field Movement. Fun fact: Thomas’s work is also popular with the Obamas, as she is one of the few women artists selected by Michelle Obama to decorate their private White House residence.

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Upon graduating high school in 1911, Alma Thomas studied education; first becoming a substitute teacher and later a kindergarten teacher. Thomas earned her BS in fine arts in 1924, proceeding to teach at Shaw Junior High School until her retirement in 1960 (Where she ran a number of art projects benefiting the school, for example, founding its first art gallery and a community arts program). Throughout her career as a teacher she continued to study art, earning a masters in art education from Columbia University and studying painting at American University.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

Thomas had always participated in the DC art community, however her work further evolved and became more highly appreciated following her retirement (A period in which many suggest she created her best work). She was a member of the Washington Color School and The Little Paris Studio. The Washington Color School was part of the Color Field movement, and similar to abstract expressionism in its use of certain tools and techniques, although dissimilar in the psychology behind the work. While many of her peers focused upon social realism during this period, Thomas turned her attention to color and abstract composition. Additionally, her work differed stylistically from many Color Field painters in that she used a primed canvas–allowing paint to build up texturally–and she used color intuitively, feeling constricted by the laws of color theory. Continue reading

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