Visual artistry is one of the many ways that people from all walks of life can express themselves. Through art, we are able to depict history, evoke strong emotions, and build a unified understanding of cultures and experiences. In light of Black History Month, here are some renowned black visual artists who use their artistic lens and creativity to portray unique perspectives in society, world views, individualism, and representation.
Jerry Metellus is a celebrity photographer and motivational speaker that has worked with the likes of B.B. King, Mike Tyson, and Jerry Seinfeld. Metellus strives to promote positive energy both on and off the camera. Taking an early interest in photography, stage presence, and fashion, Metellus sought to connect his visual interests and charismatic, giving demeanor to build positive relationships with everyone around him and create a successful career. Jerry lives by the motto, “Do it seriously, don’t take it seriously, it’s entertainment!”
Speak not only words of love. They are nothing without your actions.Jerry Metellus
Nick Cave is a textile, installation, and performance artist, mostly known for his vibrant Soundsuits. While Cave originally created the idea of Soundsuits in response to his feelings towards the brutal beating of Rodney King in the 1990s, he claims that the symbolism of the suits has evolved into a powerful armor that disguises biases towards race, gender, and class. As for performance pieces, the intricate, unique patterns and textures of Cave’s suits entice viewers to focus on the beauty of his work, rather than any bias they may hold for the person inside.
Art Info: Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2012, mixed media, including beaded and sequined garments, fabric, metal, and mannequins.
Love is a state that I would like to exist in continuously.Nick Cave
A talented young designer, painter, and collage artist, Uzo Njoku has gained recent notoriety from her exemplary depictions of black men and women contrasted with bright, warm, and cool colors, as well as intricate patterns. Attributing much of her inspiration from her Nigerian background and experiences with immigrating to the United States at a young age, Njoku finds beauty in the juxtaposition of men and women with darker skin tones and vivacious colors and textures to please the viewers’ aesthetic eye with color contrast, patterns, and the subject’s gaze. Njoku explained that much of her work derived from wanting to create a nice distraction from the negative social and political controversies surrounding the beginning of the pandemic. Njoku continues to use the people, places, and things she sees around her as her muse.
Art info: Uzo Njoku, Untitled, 2021, Acrylic and oil on canvas
I try to create someone who you are not focused on whether you know them or not. You are just knowing more of her story.Uzo Nijoku
As an established contemporary artist, Kara Walker has worked in many mediums, including painting, silhouettes, printmaking, installation, and filmmaking. Walker is most known for her wall-sized silhouettes, created with cut black paper on white background. Walker’s work blatantly addresses the history of American slavery and racism, through intense imagery. Despite many criticisms of her work’s vulgarity and violent nature, Walker unapologetically brings to light the dark pasts of slavery and segregation to uncover the horrors of aspects in America’s history.
Art Info: Kara Walker, Photo taken from Prince McVeigh and the turner Blasphemies, 2021, video (color, sound) score by Lady Midnight.
I have no interest in creating work that does not illicit a feeling.Kara Walker
Amy Sherald holds the title as the first African American woman to be commissioned for and to complete a presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, for her portrait of Michelle Obama. Sherald uses gray and muted tones for her subject’s skin and vibrant colors for their clothing and background, to symbolize and emphasize the break away from identifying people, solely for the color of their skin. Through her work, Sherald wants to portray the excitement of life that exists outside of one’s skin color, or the stigmas placed on minorities.
Art Info: Amy Sherald, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018, oil on linen.
I want my portraits to create a space where blackness can breathe.Amy Sherald
Jordan Casteel is a portrait painter who, through her work, confronts societal stigmas placed on men and women of color, and strives to create space in established art institutions for the representation of people seen in her community. In her paintings, Casteel focuses on depicting a gaze within her subject’s eyes, that combats notions of femininity, masculinity, and race. In her work, Casteel contrasts depictions of power, grace, strength, and gentleness, to force viewers to break away from implicit biases placed around gender norms and race relations.
Art info: Jordan Casteel, Aurora, 2020
I want the audience to engage with them [male subjects] as fathers, sons, brothers, cousins—as individuals with their own stories to share.Jordan Casteel
Holding the title for the first black male artist to complete a presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Kehinde Wiley is responsible for creating the stunning portrait of Barack Obama. Throughout his work, Wiley takes inspiration from the Old Masters and Renaissance painters to portray men of color through intense naturalism, in an effort to depict representations of power, nobility, heroism, and grace. In combination with his choice of bright color and intrinsic background designs, Wiley represents men of color in a technique that was historically limited to people of importance and relevance. The artist intentionally depicts his subjects in clothing and stances that are contemporary to present culture, in an effort to emphasize positive representation of black and brown men, despite societal norms and stereotypes.
Art Info: Kehinde Wiley, Barack Hussein Obama, 2018, Oil on canvas
Art is about changing what we see in our everyday lives and representing it in such a way that gives us hope.Kehinde Wiley
Prince Gyasi is a talented Ghanaian photographer, who intentionally takes and edits photographs of minorities in his community in an effort to portray positive representations of those who have often been forgotten in society. Gyasi photographs many people in his community in Accra and uses vibrant color contrasts during the editing process to uniquely exhibit the importance of their existence.
Art Info: Prince Gyasi, La Purete, 2019, Photograph.
I’m tired of seeing a lot of artists paint sad pieces about our kids… Do you want to uplift their spirits, or do you want these kids to keep seeing themselves in your pieces drowning in sorrow?Prince Gyasi