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Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

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Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

Patrick Pearson

ART 101 / Axia College

28August 2011

Morgan Page

As the museum curator, I have chose to add a little color to these walls and decided to go with an interactive timeline focused solely on the artists of and influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance, or The New Negro Movement, as it was originally known, was a cultural movement that started in the 1920s and lasted through the 1930s. Its influence, however, lived on for quite a while longer. The movement was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, but its influence reached far and wide to other northern industrial cities of the United States such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. Its influence even reached Paris, France, where ironically, many African American Soldiers lived after World War I and many African American artists traveled to study. The movement symbolized a time when African Americans began to try and overcome racism and the shackles of prejudice through their works of literature and art. They actually felt that their accomplishments in these fields would uplift the race. Most folks are familiar with the literary giants of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman, but there are plenty artists who flourished during this period; artists like Aaron Douglas, Claude Clark, Romare Bearden and a few others that we will be taking a look at later.

Octoroon Girl by Archibald Motley-1925

Archibald Motley was an African-American painter, and known for his colorful depiction of the lives of African-Americans during this period. Early on, Motley married his high school girlfriend, who just happened to be White and that caused quite a mess as one could imagine considering the times. He noted how both races reacted negatively to the marriage, and it caused him to focus his artistic vision on matters of race and color. In his Octoroon Girl, completed sometime in 1925, Motley painted a beautiful young lady of obvious mixed heritage. The color of her "light skin" contrasts sharply with the dark color of her dress and hat.


The Creation by Aaron Douglas -1927

Aaron Douglas, African American painter of the American Modernist School, may be the best known artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Kansas, Douglas later moved to New York in 1925. He started his career doing book illustrations for African American authors of the time, but graduated to large murals depicting African American life as it were. This painting here chronicles the relationship between man and God. The focal point appears to be the singular form looking up to the sky with the hand of God descending. To me, it feels like the man was totally submitting and has placed his arms and hands at his side as to say, "Take me, now, Lord. After traveling the world and painting, Douglas settled into a job as a teacher at Nashville's historically Black university, Fisk.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Malvin Gray Johnson-1929

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is not only Malvin Gray Johnson's best known work, but is also a very important painting in the history of African-American visual art at the beginning of the 20th century. In this painting, Johnson looked to convey the desperation of the plantation slaves who have gathered down by the riverside. It almost feels like a revival. Johnson uses very dark colors to add to the somberness of the painting. Lines are used to outline the cabin and the ridge of hills in the background. The artist also did a good job with details without putting faces on the subjects. I can clearly recognize the woman leaning on the kneeling man with her hand on her hip, the suspenders of the kneeling man and the man leaning with his head against the tree.

Jacobia Hotel by William H. Johnson-1930

William H. Johnson, African American artist, was born in South Carolina, but moved to New York City in 1918. After leaving school and at the urging of one of his teachers, Johnson traveled abroad to Europe and specifically, Paris, to further his artistic education and learn from the European masters. While back home in South Carolina visiting his mother, Johnson painted this scene of an old dilapidated boarding house that had once been a city-wide landmark. He painted this scene in the expressionist style that he had adopted while in Europe, exaggerating the crooked walls and sloping floors so that the structure appears ready to collapse.

Negro Soldier by Malvin Gray Johnson-1934

Malvin Gray Johnson, African American artist, was born in North Carolina but moved to New York City with his family when he was 16. He had always been interested in art and painting but could never catch a break. Just when he was set to enroll in art school, he was called to serve in World War I. After his service he returned to New York City and enrolled in the National Academy of Design. Not much after that is when he completed the aforementioned Swing Low, Sweet



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