Faith Ringgold: Painting, Fiber Art, Sculpture

Born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, New York, Faith Ringgold is considered to be one of the most important living African American artists. Working in a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, and performance, Ringgold is best known for her “story quilts” that combine narrative paintings with quilted borders and text.

Ringgold’s mother, a fashion designer and seamstress, nurtured her creative abilities from a young age. Ringgold attended City College of New York where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Education in 1955. She taught art in New York’s public schools from 1955–1973 and earned her Master’s degree in art in 1959. During this time, Ringgold also married and divorced jazz pianist Robert Earl Wallace with whom she had two daughters. In 1962, she was remarried to Burdette Ringgold.

Ringgold’s oil paintings and posters of the mid-to-late 1960s carried strong political messages and were supportive of the civil-rights movement. In 1970 she participated in a demonstration against the exclusion of black and women artists by New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. This resulted in the inclusion of Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in the Whitney Sculpture Biennial, making them the first black women ever to exhibit at the Museum.

In the early 1970s Ringgold abandoned traditional painting and began making unstretched acrylic paintings on canvas with soft cloth frames after viewing an exhibition of Tibetan art at the Rijk Museum in Amsterdam. During this time, Ringgold also began lecture tours and traveling exhibitions to colleges and universities around the United States. In 1973, she retired from teaching altogether to continue touring and create art full time.

In 1983 Ringgold began to combine images and handwritten text in her painted “story quilts,” which conveyed imaginative narratives. In 1984, a 20-year retrospective of her work was held at The Studio Museum in Harlem. That same year, Ringgold also became a professor at the University of California, San Diego, a position that she still holds today.

Over the course of her career, Ringgold has published 12 children’s books including the award winning “Tar Beach” which is based on her story quilt. As well, a book of her memoirs was published in 1995. She has exhibited in major museums in the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Ringgold is in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art.

Retrospectives of Ringgold’s work have been held by Rutgers University, New Brunswick (1973), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1984), and the Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, Hempstead (1990). Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions devoted to political art, women’s art, contemporary quilts, and African-American art, as well as in the Whitney Biennial (1985). Ringgold has received many honours, including the National Endowment for the Arts awards in sculpture (1978) and painting (1989), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1987), and fifteen honorary doctorates.

Ringgold currently lives and works in La Jolla, California, and Englewood, New Jersey. For more information, visit Faith Ringgold.com.

October 8, 2011 By Leave a Comment

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Jacob Lawrence: Among the Most Impassioned Visual Chroniclers of the African American Experience

Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence is without a doubt one of the most well-known African American painters of the twentieth century. He said of his work, “I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene.” His paintings remain eye catching today because Lawrence was among the first to document the history of African Americans through artworks that were highly influential and widely-viewed. Considering himself both an artist and educator, Lawrence used his narrative style to tell stories about black history.

General Toussaint L’Ouverture” is part of the Toussaint L’Ouverture Series

When Lawrence was seven years old his family moved to Harlem, New York.Arriving in Harlem during its great Renaissance allowed Lawrence to experience the vibrancy of African American intellectual, cultural, and artistic life. Lawrence’s exposure to the Harlem Renaissance is directly reflected in his work through shapes and colors. Lawrence referred to his style as “dynamic cubism”, though the primary influence was not so much French art, but instead the movement and colors of Harlem.

At the age of twenty-one, Lawrence became well known for his “Toussaint L’Ouverture Series” (1937). This was a forty-one painting collection that depicted the successful Haitian slave rebellion. Other influential works were series of paintings about the lives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Lawrence is also well-known for his sixty painting “Migration Series.” This series traced the mass movement of African Americans from the South to the North after World War I. Lawrence said of this series, “If it was a portrait, it was a portrait of myself, a portrait of my family, a portrait of my peers.”

Number 10 of the Harriet Tubman series

Throughout Lawrence’s career he was honored for his outstanding achievements. In 1970 the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal for his accomplishments as an artist, teacher, and humanitarian. In 1974, a major retrospective of Lawrence’s work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He was also awarded the U.S. National Medal of Arts in 1990. Today, Lawrence’s works are part of permanent collections throughout the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the White House Historical Association.

Number 21 of the Frederick Douglass series.

Lawrence taught at several schools, and continued to paint until a few weeks before his death in June 2000 at the age of eighty-two. After Lawrence’s death, the New York Times spoke of him as, “among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African American experience.” In 2000, the New York Times also called Lawrence, “one of America’s leading modern figurative painters.” Although superb reviews speak volumes of Lawrence’s work, I urge readers to spend time viewing his collection of paintings because they truly do speak for themselves.

Posted on August 2nd, 2011 by Cori Sisler