I was still a child the first time I saw one of Frida Kahlo's paintings and I've been transfixed ever since. When I was younger, it was the accuracy of her vibrant self-portraits that captivated me. But as I grew older, and endured much trauma, I was drawn to her expression of pain. You can tell from Kahlo's paintings that she is fluent in the language of suffering, and her visual representations of it have the unique quality of being literal while still nuanced. Kahlo was a Mexican artist who at the time she painted the most, was married to a larger-than-life Mexican muralist named Diego Rivera. As a child, she survived a horrible bus accident which left her with severe life-long injuries and would eventually paralyze her. That, coupled with her husband's flagrant infidelity and her many miscarriages, would have destroyed most people. But Kahlo's indomitable spirit allowed her to create meaningful, nuanced art that communicated her struggles. She remains celebrated for her art, her carefree life and feminism. Read more for my favorite paintings and a tour of an exhibition I saw of hers at the Brooklyn Museum.
There's something inherently stratifying about the way that figures are depicted in classic paintings. In many of them, black and brown figures take on subservient roles in a way that is consistent with how black and brown people of that time were oppressed. To reimagine history is the work of the visionary. To reimagine art history has been the signature mission of visionary painter Kehinde Wiley. Wiley's desire to make people of African descent more visible by reinterpreting classic work began when he was still a young child. Born in Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, Wiley began his art education early, even studying for a short time in Russia when he was just 11. The more he became familiar with the paintings of the "Old Masters", the more determined he became to reimagine the relationships of power often visually communicated in those works. His models are often dressed in street clothes with ornate baroque or floral backgrounds, rendered in larger-than-life portraits. He has traveled around the world painting and exhibiting his work but is perhaps best-known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama which is housed in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery's "American Presidents" exhibition. Read more to see that portrait as well as some other Wiley paintings.
In 2014, I was asked to create a fine arts curriculum for a nonprofit which catered to underserved youth. It was an honor to be asked, but I was also immediately conflicted. While I have an extensive mental catalog of favorite fine artists, the Director of the program only wanted a twelve-week curriculum. This meant that I had to choose only twelve artists to delve into. There were some that I vacillated about for more time than perhaps necessary, but I knew from the start that Jacob Lawrence had to make the cut. Lawrence is considered to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His distinctive folk style colorfully depicts the story of the African-American experience with vibrancy and dignity. From painting heroes such as Harriet Tubman, to capturing the essence of the migration, and even just scenes from a barbershop, Lawrence paints these aspects of black culture in a style he created called dynamic cubism. This style is both vibrant and concise. Read more to see more of Lawrence's paintings.
In true New York fashion, I rarely get starstruck. New York City is the home of so many celebrities that you tend to bump into them often if you live here. I have run into celebs in all sorts of places from shopping centers, to the art store and even the subway. And each time, I have kept my quintessentially New York cool. Each time, except, when I almost met Mickalene Thomas. Both times I was so starstruck that I began visibly fangirling. Both times I was on the bus (#DontShameMeForNotDriving #ImANewYorker) and she was outside. Both times, I stood in awe that one of the greatest contemporary artists had a studio right in my neighborhood of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Both times I was close enough to take her in, but too far away to approach her.
I decided to take an art class at Pratt Institute this semester. Considering my foray back into creating art, submitting myself to formal art training again felt like the right thing to do. A few weeks ago in class, we discussed surrealism, delving into the works of Salvador Dali, Roberto Matta and my favorite, Frida Kahlo. As the class was winding down, the Professor offered some closing remarks, followed by a question. "Do any of you have any contemporary artists in mind who you feel were heavily influenced by surrealism?" No sooner had he asked it then I blurted out the name of one of my favorite painters, Mark Ryden. Read on for more ...