Drawings and Paintings by an Afro-American Artist

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<ul><li><p>Leonardo</p><p>Drawings and Paintings by an Afro-American ArtistAuthor(s): Raymond LarkSource: Leonardo, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 1982), pp. 7-12Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1574335 .Accessed: 18/06/2014 15:27</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>The MIT Press and Leonardo are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toLeonardo.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from 195.78.108.81 on Wed, 18 Jun 2014 15:27:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=mitpresshttp://www.jstor.org/stable/1574335?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Leonardo, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 7-12, 1982 Printed in Great Britain </p><p>0024-094X/82/010007-06$03.00/0 Pergamon Press Ltd. </p><p>DRAWINGS AND PAINTINGS BY AN AFRO-AMERICAN ARTIST </p><p>Raymond Lark* </p><p>Abstract - The author, an Afro-American, describes briefly the historical and, in more detail, the personal background to his work as a draftsman and painter. His basic intentions as a visual artist are presented together with a discussion of some of his drawings and paintings, which are realistic in style. </p><p>I. </p><p>Many Afro-American visual artists have an irrepressible urge to convince the world that they have much to contribute to the visual arts. (The term Afro-American refers only to Blacks born in the U.S.A., and the term Black refers to any person whose descent is traceable to the African Black race, regardless of the place of birth.) </p><p>Although the art and tools of the earliest known humans will not be discussed here, it should be noted that rock art in Africa south of the Sahara dates back to the Pleistocene period about 400,000 years ago and the art of the African Bushman tribe during the last 500 years may be a continuation of it. A review and bibliography of African rock art can be found in Ref. 1. </p><p>Little is known about the first phase of Afro- American visual art. The suppression of the tribal languages of African slaves in the U.S.A. led these people to communicate among themselves not only in the jargon they learned from their owners but also by gestures and pictorial means. The earliest known portrait paintings by a Black are those of Joshua Johnston (1765-1830), which are similar in style to those of the White USAmerican painter Rembrandt Peale, his contemporary. Portraits and landscapes by Robert Duncanson (1817-1872) and Edward Bannister (1828-1901), portraits and genre scenes by Henry O. Tanner (1859-1937) and neoclassical sculptures made in Rome by Edmonia Lewis (1845-1890) are represented in many museums and private collections throughout the world. </p><p>In the 1920s and 1930s, the works of the Harlem Renaissance artists of New York City drew wide recognition, especially those by Richmond Barthe, Romare Bearden [2], Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage, Henry O. Tanner, Charles White, and Hale Woodruff [3, 4]. </p><p>Another dominant influence on contemporary Afro-American art arose from the artists who were </p><p>*Painter and draftsman, P.O. Box 8990, Los Angeles, CA 90008, U.S.A. (Received 28 Oct. 1980) </p><p>active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly the so-called Revolutionary Black Artists of California. These artists were revitalizing the study of Black history and were trying to express pride in the dignity of Black people at the same time. The so-called Revolutionary Black Artists of California won their uncomplimentary name from the White USAmerican establishment, which was appalled by the primarily Black subject matter of these artists that had entered an art world not yet conditioned to accept it. This lack of conditioning brought notoriety and derision to many of these artists at first, but favorable recognition of some of them later. The Harlem Renaissance artists of New York City and the Revolutionary Black artists of California pro- foundly influenced what is now called Afro- American Art. </p><p>I participated in an art exhibition dedicated to the victims of the Watts riot in Los Angeles, California. This exhibition, organized in 1965 by the South Bay Community Relations Council of Redondo Beach, California, was my first art contribution to the Civil Rights movement. I also supported fellow artists of any ethnic origin in the U.S.A. in their struggles for recognition by urging major art centers to exhibit and to buy their works. I have given freely more than eight years of my time to collect and coordinate traveling exhibitions, to introduce to the art public works by Afro-American painters. I have also helped some painters with framing and shipping expenses and have attempted to advance their professional development by arranging seminars on such matters as business affairs, preparation of portfolios and museum exhibition catalogues and proposals for art grants. </p><p>In 1967, I became associated with the Art West Associated, Inc. (AWA), a professional Black artists' organization with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I served as president of the Association from 1968 to 1970. This Association was a center for art discussions and a meeting place for Black artists actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. Among them were Ruth G. Waddy, William E. Smith, Van E. Slater, Wes Hall, Bernard </p><p>7 </p><p>This content downloaded from 195.78.108.81 on Wed, 18 Jun 2014 15:27:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Wright, E. J. Montgomery, Charles White, Vantile Whitfield, Daniel Johnson, Ben Hazard and more than 100 other artists working in California. </p><p>Informing and educating the public were two important aims of AWA, but its program included research to aid the preparation of books and exhibition catalogues on Afro-American art, in general, and, specifically, on the work of a number of AWA's artists like Van E. Slater, Samella S. Lewis, Ruth G. Waddy, E. J. Montgomery and Ben Hazard. Many of the artists of the Association have lectured on the visual arts at universities, colleges and museums. Television and cinema, as well, have been used extensively by AWA to inform and educate the public. From 1966 to 1970, traveling exhibitions were organized and shown in major art centers in the U.S.A., the Soviet Union and Western Europe. </p><p>In the 1960s and 1970s, the AWA sponsored community and youth activities, including the tutoring of college and high school students, and it was also instrumental in organizing exhibitions by women and by White USAmerican and Afro- American artists, none of whom had had an exhibition of their works in a gallery or museum. The AWA was dissolved in 1974 [5, 6]. </p><p>II. I believe strongly that self-confidence underlies </p><p>the achievement of one's personal goals in life. I shall briefly relate some of my goals and experiences as an Afro-American artist that may be of interest to the readers of Leonardo. </p><p>I was born in poverty, the son of a domestic worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of four, I was fascinated by a prancing drum majorette in a Thanksgiving Day parade. At home I tried to make a drawing of her from memory. It was recognized readily by my relatives as a good likeness. I decided then that I would become a visual artist, an ambition that was reinforced by my first visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years later. At age nine, I took my first formal art training at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art after regular public school classes and on Saturdays. Visual art had become an obsession from my early childhood; I had resolved to become an artist, even though I was told repeatedly that few can make a living in this profession. Negative comments such as these only increased my determination to pursue this goal. </p><p>I spent much of my childhood in various kinds of labor. At age eight, I was collecting and selling junk and shining shoes. When I was 12, I was killing chickens for a meat market. Later I worked on farms and in hot factories at the minimum wage. At age 14 I worked full time as a messenger and then became successively a stockroom boy, packer, shipper, statistical typist, secretary and executive secretary, still under 19 years of age. At age 19, I had my own office in Philadelphia, where I calculated formula sheets for chemists at the Physicians Drug </p><p>and Supply Company and carried out other work to support myself financially. At night, I studied art at Temple University Evening College, while earning a degree in business administration. I also enrolled in drawing and painting and business courses at Dobbins Vocational Night School and at St. John's College. In 1961, at age 22, I moved to Los Angeles, where I studied technical illustration at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College and continued business courses at several other educational institutions. I wanted to prepare myself to earn enough money to permit me to devote my entire efforts to drawing and painting. </p><p>My first job in California was as a traffic supervisor for the Lockheed Aircraft Co. in Burbank. While working for Lockheed, I bought a restaurant in Los Angeles that I managed for more than six years. It was called 'Raymond Lark's House of Fine Foods', and, in it, I displayed my artworks on the walls and began to sell them. Finally, distressed by many burglaries and excessive demands on my time, I decided to close the restaurant. Then I held a variety of administrative positions in business, law and education worlds. But at the same time, and with even more enthusiasm, I continued to draw and paint. In 1971, I gave up a secure business career for an uncertain future in the art world. I decided to take a huge risk and to apply my business experience, and, although the first years were difficult, I am now able to live on proceeds from the sale of my drawings and paintings. </p><p>I find that most visual artists and art scholars in the world know very little about African and Afro- American art. It has been treated insufficiently or omitted from most art history books. This prompted me to conduct research and to write and lecture on African and Afro-American history with special emphasis on visual art. I like to think that I am providing some needed information, yet it is still difficult for a Black artist with an established reputation to get a museum showing, and it is not uncommon for art connoisseurs to be con- descending in their assessment of contributions by African and Afro-American artists. </p><p>During my 22-year career as a professional artist, I have had to contend not only with poverty but with the disapproval and indifference of Whites and, often, with belittlement by other Blacks. However, I have not had ambivalent feelings about my role in society and the value of my artworks. Additional biographical information about me as well as discussions of my work can be found in Refs. 6.-11. </p><p>III. I view the art world through the eyes of an Afro- </p><p>American: suffering, doing without, misunder- stood, unappreciated and underestimated. But, my intent is to reveal with artistic originality in my works love, humor and truth along with a somber concern for the psychological and intellectual characteristics of the environment in which I live. </p><p>8 Raymond Lark </p><p>This content downloaded from 195.78.108.81 on Wed, 18 Jun 2014 15:27:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Drawings and Paintings by an Afro-American Artist </p><p>The paintings and drawings I make tell or suggest a story with a special message. I shall analyze some of them in terms of what they mean to me. In general, the messages reflect my empathy and respect for the dignity of humans of any ethnic origin. My depictions include those of Brown people, Yellow people and White people as well as Black people; however, most deal with the life of everyday people in the U.S.A. My work has been exhibited in many different countries, and their cultures have had an influence on my later works. I am a realist in my art and am interested in detail; I record the people that stimulate me and their surroundings. I may find inspiration and beauty, for example, in a scrub bucket and a mop, in the color of a dress or in the structure of a human body. My depictions can be humorous, religious, heroic or sadly poetic. In my opinion, the simpler a subject seems, the more difficult is its presentation. People ask me, 'Why do you paint and draw old people, poverty, and depressing subjects?' My reply is that I am not concerned with pleasing the public with my subject matter. Although I occasionally take commissions, I try to avoid compromising my art for money. Some individuals have the view that White artists cannot capture particular nuances of a Black subject and Black artists those of a White subject. I do not accept this view. However, it is evident that a wide understanding is required of any subject one wants to treat pictorially. Although one of my basic aims is to further the appreciation and understanding of works by African and Afro- American artists, I do not want to be typed as only a Black artist. </p><p>I work in oils, watercolors and pencil, but I like pencil drawing best. My drawing involves the use of several different weights of graphite pencil. Much of the effectiveness of such drawings derives from the skill and imagination with which one manipulates the highlights and shadows on a sheet of paper. </p><p>I regard myself as a forerunner among Afro- American artists. Seventeen years ago, I became, I am sure, the first Black visual artist to participate in major television and motion picture productions in the U.S.A. The Columbia Broadcasting system (C.B.S.) hired me for such television productions as 'All in the Family', 'Carol Burnett Show', 'Sony and Cher Show', 'Young and the Restless', and 'Maude'. I also participated in productions by Universal City Studios, Movie Land Wax Museum and the Palace of the Living Arts. Some of the background scenery in these productions measured more than 18 x 36 m. </p><p>IV. 1. 'Society', (Fig. 1, see color plate) </p><p>While different from most of my oil paintings, 'Society' was intended to be a humorous portrait in which I emphasized facial expresion. This White lady of 'high society', smiling knowingly, perhaps a bit cynically, about something, is evidently affluent to possess so much jewelry and such a beautiful dress. </p><p>2. 'Noguchi and the Chocolate Baby' (Fig. 2) I especially admire the Black people of A...</p></li></ul>

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