In Celebration of BLACK HISTORY MONTH, and THE MONUMENTS MEN, where historical works of art are featured, Sonya’s Spotlight features prolific and influential African-American artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Hale Woodruff.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, born in Brooklyn, New York (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988), was a Haitian-American artist. Basquiat first achieved notoriety as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti group who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City during the late 1970s where the hip hop, post-punk and street art movements had coalesced. By the 1980s he was exhibiting his Neo-expressionist and Primitivist paintings in galleries and museums internationally, but he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in 1988. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.
Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing and painting, and married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a “springboard to deeper truths about the individual”, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.
Hale Aspacio Woodruff (August 26, 1900 – September 6, 1980) was an African-American artist known for his murals, paintings, and prints. One example of his work, the three-panel Amistad Mutiny murals (1938), can be found at Talladega College in Talladega County, Alabama. The murals, commissioned and painted during the Great Depression, are entitled: The Revolt, The Court Scene, and Back to Africa, portraying events related to the slave revolt on theAmistad. Located in Savery Library, they depict events on the ship, the U.S. Supreme Court trial, and the Mende people’s return to Africa.
The library also has a portrayal of the ship as part of the lobby floor. Local tradition at the college prohibits walking “on” the ship, despite its central location. In addition, the library has other Woodruff murals depicting other events from African-American history, including student registration at the college after theAmerican Civil War.
Born in Cairo, Illinois, he studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and at Harvard University and spent four years studying in Paris from 1927-31. Woodruff also studied under Diego Rivera as an apprentice in Mexico in 1936. While his Amistad Mutiny murals are some of his best known work, Woodruff also applied his understanding of Post-Impressionism and Cubism for social advocacy after his return to the United States.