A large-scale portrait of L.L. Cool J by contemporary black artist, Kehinde Wiley.

Contemporary Black Artists: Discover the Work of These Established and Emerging Living Black Artists

The Art World should be taking a long, hard look in the mirror right now. It is no secret that minorities are not sufficiently represented in the world’s major art museums and private collections. It’s easy to feel self-righteous and indignant in recognizing this not-so-secret fact. It’s also too easy to fall back on convenient excuses when thinking about how to enact change. To say, well what can I do to support contemporary black artists? I am not on the staff at a major art museum. I am not the curator for a large private art collection.

But then I scroll through my own Instagram feed, which is filled with the accounts of the working artists and art galleries that I love. As I look with fresh eyes and new purpose, something stands out. How many of these artists and gallery owners are people of color? Not many. And certainly not enough.

In that moment, I realized that I do not need to be on the board of a major art museum to affect the change that I want to see in the Art World. So, what can I do to support contemporary black artists that will make a difference?

3 Ways to Support Black Artists:

First, go see art exhibitions that feature the work of black artists. Let the Art World know that their work and point of view is wanted and valued. Buy a ticket. Be counted in the total visitors tally. Be a part of the reason that an exhibition is a success.

Second, show support for individual working black artists. Follow them on social media. Like their posts. Share a piece that moves you and tag the artist. If you are able, consider buying one of their pieces.

Third, seek out new black artists on-line. If (like me!) you are realizing that your social media is not reflecting enough diverse points of view, then this is the time to change it!

Not Sure Where to Begin? Check Out the Work of These Contemporary Black Artists On-Line:

*Click on the name of the artist to visit his or her Instagram account or dedicated hashtag! This list is a mix of both emerging and established living black artists.

  • Allison Ford is an abstract artist who wants to create “art that resonates with the way you live and love.” Her dreamy compositions incorporate beautiful color combinations and painterly brushstrokes.
  • Amy Sherald is a contemporary portrait artist who, in 2018, painted the official portrait of Michelle Obama. “Sherald creates innovative, dynamic portraits that, through color and form, confront the psychological effects of stereotypical imagery on African-American subjects.” ~Smithsonian Magazine.
  • Calida Garcia Rawles is a contemporary painter who depicts intimate and ethereal scenes of black subjects floating in crystal-clear waters. In her work, “water arose as a metaphor for life, death, the ubiquitous unknown, and the universe.” ~Juxtapoz.
  • El Anatsui is a contemporary sculptor who uses discarded found materials, such as liquor bottle caps, to create large-scale, complex and beautiful tapestries.
  • Kara Walker is a contemporary painter and silhouettist, who explores themes of race, gender, and identity. She is known for her large-scale black cut-paper silhouettes depicting (often disturbing and nightmarish) scenes from the Antebellum south.
  • Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary painter who is known for referencing poses found in renowned Old Master paintings to depict his modern-day Black subjects in a heroic and laudatory manner. In 2018, he painted the official portrait of President Barack Obama.
  • Kerry James Marshall creates work that reflects on “black identity both in the United States and in Western art. He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon and has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics.” ~Jack Shainman Gallery
  • Lory Ivey Alexander is a DC area contemporary artist whose abstract paintings have a beautiful sense of fluidity to them. When I saw her work for the first time, it felt like I was looking into glossy pools of still-wet paint.
  • Martin Puryear is a contemporary sculptor and accomplished wood-worker known for large-scale pieces made from organic materials. Oftentimes, these pieces are shaped into forms with elegant curved lines. His works reference forms of craft making and culturally specific traditions such as basket weaving.
  • Reggie Black is a DC area multimedia artist who explores themes of race, diversity, and mental health. His work incorporates elements of abstract painting, graphic design and typography.
  • Titus Kaphar’s works expose black subjects or black subject matter that have remained hidden or has been silenced through much of art history (and American history in general).
  • Tsedaye Makonnen is a DC area interdisciplinary artist and curator. Her current project, Black Women as/and the Living Archive, explores “the modes in which Black women encode, preserve, and share memory through community.”

I Want to Hear from You!

This list is just a starting point! Who else do I need to add? Which contemporary black artists have I unintentionally left off? Please let me know in the comments and I will update this post to include new names!

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