Influential African-American Artists To Celebrate

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Black artists have shared powerful portrayals of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans through their paintings, sculptures, photos, and other artworks. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Jacob Lawrence, and other artists help to illuminate the African-American perspective to the world.

The African-American artists here all hail from relatively recent times, and have had a huge influence on the modern and contemporary art scene.

ean-Michel Basquiat wearing an American football helmet (1981). Photo: © Edo Bertoglio, courtesy of Maripol, Artwork: © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018 & The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

1. Jean Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was an American artist with Haitian and Puerto Rican roots. Basquiat used social commentary in his artworks as a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the black community, and attacks on power structures and systems of racism.

2. Kara Walker

Kara Elizabeth Walker (born 1969) is an American contemporary painter, silhouettist, print-maker, installation artist who explores race, gender, and identity in her artwork. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes.

3. Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was an American painter known for his portrayal of African-American life. Lawrence referred to his style as “dynamic cubism”, bringing the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors.

4. Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks (1912–2006) was an American photographer, musician, writer and film director, who became prominent in U.S. photojournalism in the 1940s through 1970s — particularly in issues of civil rights, poverty and African Americans. He is best remembered for his iconic photos of poor Americans in the 1940s, for his photo essays for Life magazine, and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft.

5. Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall (born 1955) is an American artist born in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles and now lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he taught at the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

6. Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley (born 1977)is an American portrait painter based in New York City, who is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people. He was commissioned in 2017 to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

7. Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford (born 1961) is an American artist living and working in Los Angeles. Bradford is best known for his grid-like abstract paintings combining collage with paint.

8. Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates (born 1973) is an American social practice installation artist and a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. Gates’ work has been shown at major museums and galleries internationally and deals with issues of urban planning, religious space, and craft.

9. Sam Gilliam

Sam Gilliam (born 1933) is one the great innovators in postwar American painting. He emerged from the Washington, D.C. scene in the mid 1960s with works that elaborated upon and disrupted the ethos of Color School painting.

10. Titus Kaphar

Titus Kaphar (born 1976) is an American painter whose work reconfigures and regenerates art history to include the African-American subject. Kaphar works across genres, often appropriating and manipulating Western art’s styles and mediums to address pressing social concerns, such as the legacy of slavery and the confluence of racial injustice, punishment, and protest.

Olju Man

Founder of Art Direct. Content creator and curator @ artdirect_ on Instagram.


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