THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART (CMA) is presenting “Women Now” in spring 2022. The forthcoming exhibition will focus on contemporary women printmakers, including Amy Sherald. “Handsome” (2020), her first-ever print, will be featured in the show. Recently added to the museum’s collection, the limited-edition screenprint is based on Sherald’s 2019 painting of Jamar Roberts, an Alvin Ailey dancer she depicts wearing a loose-fitting navy blue polka-dot shirt.

On March 29, the Cleveland Museum of Art announced 12 new acquisitions, eight of them by African American artists. In addition to Sherald’s “Handsome” print, the works include late 1960s, early 1970s screenprints by AFRICOBRA artists Barbara Jones-Hogu (1938-2017) and Wadsworth Jarrell, as well recent works by emerging photographer D’Angelo Lovell Williams. The works were acquired in late 2020 and early 2021.

 


AMY SHERALD (American, b. 1973), “Handsome,” 2020 (color screenprint; 102.2 x 81.3 cm; sheet 114.9 x 94 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Print Club of Cleveland, 2020.277

 

“Handsome” is a fitting title for Sherald’s work. Good looking with a self-assured presence, Roberts engages the viewer with a hint of reserve. The artist met her subject, the resident choreographer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, through her assistant. Last May, he landed a virtual commission to make a video for Works & Process, the Guggenheim Museum’s performance series.

Roberts choreographed a short performance called “Cooped” that was inspired by the uncertainty and isolation of the pandemic. The New York Times described the work as “one of the most powerful artistic responses yet to the Covid-19 crisis. And as that crisis changes shape, as the anxiety over disease and confinement is compounded by violence and protest, the resonance of the work only expands.”

Sherald’s portraits reflect the complexity of the contemporary African American experience. She renders her skin tones in grisaille—a gray hue intended to mute pre-conceived notions about skin color and challenge assumptions about Black identity.

After living and working for many years in Baltimore, where the artist still spots many of her subjects, Sherald is now based in Jersey City, N.J. She says she paints everyday people doing everyday things, which is nearly always the case. The artist famously came to prominence, however, after painting an outsized figure. Her official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at the National Gallery of Art in February 2018. A month later, Hauser & Wirth announced its representation of Sherald.

Amy Sherald’s portraits reflect the complexity of the contemporary African American experience. She renders her skin tones in grisaille—a gray hue intended to mute pre-conceived notions about skin color and challenge assumptions about Black identity.


D’ANGELO LOVELL WILLIAMS (American, b. 1992), “Take My Hand,” 2018 (pigment print, image: 126.7 x 84.6 cm; paper: 131.5 x 89.5 cm.). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, L. E. Holden Fund, 2020.281

 

(She has since accepted a second commission to paint a well-known person. Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor appeared on the September 2020 cover of Vanity Fair and will anchor “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” a forthcoming exhibition curated by Allison Glenn at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., Taylor’s hometown.)

“Handsome” was one of eight paintings featured in Sherald’s inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, “the heart of the matter,” which was on view in New York in fall 2019. “The Great American Fact,” Sherald’s first West Coast exhibition showcasing five new paintings, both individual and group portraits, is currently underway at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, through June 6.

BORN IN JACKSON, MISS., Brooklyn-based Williams often appears in his work—carefully staged scenes that explore Blackness, queerness, and family. The photographer’s images are imaginative, subversive, conceptual, and personal. Works featuring his mother, father, and grandmother are heartfelt.

“The history of art has always been, dangerously, white, straight, and male. My images are not only about my black and gay experience from my perspective, they are about desire and the framing of black gay men,” Williams said in an interview with London-based Dazed Digital last year.

 


D’ANGELO LOVELL WILLIAMS (American, b. 1992), “Hieroglyph 1,” 2018 (pigment print; image: 114 x 76.1 cm; paper: 118.6 x 80.9 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, L. E. Holden Fund, 2020.280

 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired “Mama’s Always Watching” (2017); “Was Blind But Now I See (Granny)” (2019); “Hieroglyph 1” (2018); and “Take My Hand” (2018). The four images by Williams focus on vulnerability, desire, and intimacy. Fellow artist Diedrick Brackens is among his subjects.

“One aspect of discovery I long for visualises Black flesh meeting Black flesh and becoming something else. It’s this joining and testing of what bodies can do through intimate gestures, connections, and actions,” Williams told Dazed. “I want to see what it looks like when pressure from any part of one body is applied to any part of another. The act of touch is very important in my work. There are a lot of hands throughout. That touch, that connection, feels as much as it looks like something.”

“One aspect of discovery I long for visualises Black flesh meeting Black flesh and becoming something else. It’s this joining and testing of what bodies can do through intimate gestures, connections, and actions.” — D’Angelo Lovell Williams

AFRICOBRA WAS ESTABLISHED in Chicago in 1968 at the height of the Black Power and Black Arts movements. Co-founded by Jarrell, Jones-Hogu, Jae Jarrell, Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004), and Gerald Williams, the artist collective promoted powerful and uplifting images. The group was dedicated to unity and strengthening the spirit, mindset, and political will of the Black community.

The collective communicated in a language of bold images defined by bright colors, rhythmic text, and positive portrayals of Black people. Printmaking was a significant aspect of their pracitices, emphasizing the importance of making their artwork affordable and accessible to the masses.

 


D’ANGELO LOVELL WILLIAMS (American, b. 1992), “Was Blind But Now I See (Granny),” 2019 (pigment print; image: 50.8 x 76.4 cm; paper: 55.6 x 81.3 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, L.E. Holden Fund, 2020.282

 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired some of the best-known prints by AFRICOBRA artists—”Revolutionary” (1972) by Jarrell and Jones-Hogu’s “Unite” (1969) and “Untitled (Land Where My Father Died)” (1968).

“Unite” features a formation of figures with Afros, their fists held aloft in the Black Power salute. The graphic image was inspired by an Elizabeth Catlett sculpture and the gesture made by two track and field athletes who raised their fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Jones-Hogu was in Mexico in the summer of 1968. She didn’t go to the Olympics, but she visited Catlett’s studio. “She was working on an abstract sculpture of a woman with an upstretched arm and hand (“Homage to My Young Black Sisters,” 1968), and I thought that was a good idea. It was a Black Power stance. I thought we as a people should unite as a people under this concept. I have a photograph of [U.S. Olympians] Tommie Smith and John Carlos doing this,” Jones-Hogu told Rebecca Zorach, a Northwestern University art historian, in a 2011 interview.

Jones-Hogu, a lifelong resident of Chicago, was recognized for her printmaking skills which were vital to AFRICOBRA. In the interview with Zorach, the artist talked at length about her introduction to the medium and how it served her creative objectives.

“[Elizabeth Catlett] was working on an abstract sculpture of a woman with an upstretched arm and hand, and I thought that was a good idea. It was a Black Power stance. I thought we as a people should unite as a people under this concept.” — Barbara Jones-Hogu


BARBARA JONES-HOGU (American, 1938-2017), “Unite,” 1969, printed 1971 (Color screenprint on cream wove paper; image: 56.9 x 76.7 cm; sheet: 64.7 x 84.1 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, Karl B. Goldfield Trust, 2021.14

 

“When I went to the Art Institute (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) I wanted to major in painting. Their major was Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking, so I had to take courses in those three areas. That’s how I really got into doing prints because I took courses in various methods of wood block, wood engraving, etching, lithography and screen-printing. I really enjoyed creating images in all of the different methods. In these courses my interest in printmaking was deepened,” Jones-Hogu told Zorach.

“[At the Illinois Institute of Design] I continued working in woodcut, etching, and lithography at first and then later screen-printing. Screen-printing became my main method of creating in the last years of my part-time studies and that is only because my woodcutting tools had been stolen and at that point I was more interested in working in color.”

IN 2018, THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART presented “Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell.” The title of the exhibition comes from “Heritage” (1973), a painting by Jarrell acquired by the museum in 2016.

“Revolutionary,” the museum’s latest acquisition by Cleveland-based Jarrell is one of the artist’s most iconic images. An homage to Angela Davis, the print is derived from his 1971 painting of the activist and scholar, which is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum and is based on a widely circulated photograph of her giving a speech in 1970.

 


BARBARA JONES-HOGU (American, 1938-2017), “Untitled (Land Where My Father Died),” 1968 (color screenprint on cream wove paper; image: 45.7 x 50.8 cm; sheet: 51.4 x 73.2 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of David Lusenhop in honor of the artist

 

True to AFRICOBRA’s signature style, the work features vibrant colors and a graphic text treatment. Captured wearing a replica of Jae Jarrell’s Revolutionary Suit, Davis dominates the foreground and in the background words from her speech are repeated and surround her figure. Jarrell wrote about the work in “AFRICOBRA: Experimental Art Toward a School of Thought,” his recently published book.

“Davis’s face and hands are constructed of only the letter B—for Black is Beautiful—and words, namely ‘Revolution,’ ‘Black is Beautiful,’ ‘Resist,’ ‘Seize the Time,’ ‘Bad,’ and ‘She Hipped Us to Chuck…He Full of It.’ (“Chuck” is a reference to “hunkies,” or white people.) Words and letters compose her endless afro hairstyle which explodes into fragmentations of the letter B… The letters words and shapes are layered over an orange and yellow background,” Jarrell wrote.

“Written on the garment she is wearing are remnants of a speech she delivered in 1970 in California. ‘I have given my life to the struggle…If I have to lose my life in the struggle, that’s the way it will have to be.’ Also attached to her suit is a red leather bandolier of colorful faux bullets. Size and scale in the painting are emphasized in an attempt to capture the aura of her power and strength as an activist, educator, scholar, politician, revolutionary, member of the Communist and the Black Panther Parties, with her own agenda encapsulating radical change.” CT

 


WADSWORTH JARRELL (American, b. 1929), “Revolutionary,” 1972 (color screenprint on off white heavy wove paper; image: 83.9 x 67.4 cm; sheet: 83.9 x 67.4 cm). | The Cleveland Museum of Art, Karl B. Goldfield Trust, 2021.15

 

READ MORE about the life and work of Barbara Jones-Hogu on Culture Type

 

BOOKSHELF
“Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite,” the first monograph of Barbara Jones-Hogu, accompanied her first solo museum exhibition at DePaul Art Museum in Chicago. Wadsworth Jarrell is the author of the recently published volume “AFRICOBRA: Experimental Art toward a School of Thought.” The fully illustrated exhibition catalog “AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People” documents a pair of presentations focused on AFRICOBRA curated by Jeffreen M. Hayes at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and an official collateral event of the 58th Venice Biennale. “Amy Sherald” is the artist’s first monograph, which was published to accompany an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, her first solo outing at a mainstream art museum. “The Obama Portraits” is about “the making, meaning, and significance” of the portraits of President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald. A children’s book, “Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment” recalls the priceless moment when a young African American girl viewed Michelle Obama’s official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.

 

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