February welcomes Black History Month, a time to reflect on and celebrate the myriad contributions African Americans have made to society. If historical or famous figures are often honored, it is also an ideal momentto zoom in on the black artists who are shaking up the world today. Since we here at the Artnet Gallery Network have been on a mission to discover emerging talent, in honor of Black History Month, we’ve narrowed the field down to seven contemporary African-American artists that we think everyone should know.
Lavet Ballard, Do like me (2022). Courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery.
Artist: Lav Ballard
Hometown: East Orange, New Jersey
Current City:philadelphia cream
Average: Mixed Media Sculpture
Gallery: Ballard’s work is currently featured in “My Soul Has Got To Move” at Long-pointed gallery, Indianapolis
Why we love it:The title of Ballard’s exhibition takes its name from a gospel-funk-soul song from 1978, and like its lyrics, the works in the exhibition are about transformation and personal evolution. His multimedia works are made from pasted photos, oil pastels and metallic foils applied to sections of wooden fences. These works reinvent the visual narrative of people – especially women – in the African diaspora, bringing together images of warrior queens and hip-hop culture. Fences serve as symbols of social divisions along identity factors, including race and gender.
Current City:Los Angeles
Average:Oil pastels, watercolors and drawings
Gallery: James currently has work on display in a “Portraits” group show at the Tilton Gallery in New York.
Why we love it: February James has been drawing since childhood. After moving to Los Angeles in 2007, the artist spent years moonlighting as a makeup artist while continuing her practice. Inspired by the works of South African artist Marlene Dumas, James began drawing pictures of the black figures that filled her imagination. James characters can be ghostly in appearance, with white veils covering their faces and dark circles surrounding their eyes, as if bruised or completely exhausted. Marked by the aura of memory, James’ moving works have appeared as album covers by Diplo, Santigold and Lil Yachty.
Jeremy Okai Davis
Jeremy Okai Davis, Thelma Study (Thelma Street Johnson) (2020). Courtesy of Elizabeth Leach Gallery.
Artist: Jeremy Okai Davis
Hometown:Charlotte, North Carolina
Current City: Portland, Oregon.
Average:Davis’ figurative paintings are rooted in his interest in the relationship between photography and portraiture.
Gallery: Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland
Why we love it: Jeremy Okai Davis’ paintings are inspired by depictions of black people in vintage media. His paintings often responded to the standard portrait images produced by Kodak in the 1970s. Known as Shirley cards, these images were used to calibrate color film processing and were based on white skin as the standard. In the paintings, the artist places his subjects in the Shirley format but allows for a depth and complexity of color that would not have been possible on film. The artist also portrayed overlooked black historical figures, such as civil rights activist Pauli Murray and Nellie Hill, an early screen star.
Omari Booker, Black boy fly (2020). Courtesy of Urevbu Contemporary.
Artist: Omari Booker
Current City: Los Angeles and Nashville
Average:Booker is best known for his large-scale projects oil paintings, but his practice sometimes includes elements of charcoal, ink and found objects.
Gallery:Booker shows with Urevbu Contemporary in Memphis, Tenn.
Why we love it:Booker paints expressionist scenes of black men, women, and children, sometimes incorporating elements of mixed media into his energetic paintings. Her process-driven approach captures the freedom and independence of the creative process.
Vakseen, To free (2021). Courtesy of Abend Gallery.
Hometown:Born in Athens, Georgia, Vakseen grew up in Jacksonville, Florida.
Current location: Los Angeles
Average: Vakseen has developed a distinctive style of painting influenced by collage, which he calls Vanity Pop.
Where to see the work:The artist exhibits with Abend Gallery in Denverand in exhibitions across Los Angeles.
Why we love it: Vakseen is a self-taught artist whose style of painting blends elements of photorealism, cubism, and fashion editorial imagery to create color-saturated abstract portraits. At first glance, his works appear to be collages or multimedia works, but they are actually hand-painted canvases. His works are a celebration of pop culture and the beauty of everyday life.
Dominique Chambers, Self-invocation (shadow work) (2022). Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.
Artist: Dominic Rooms
Hometown: Saint Louis
Current City:New Haven, Conn.
Average: Chambers is known for his colorful and dreamlike figurative paintings.
Gallery: His exhibition “Soft Shadows” is currently presented at theLehmann Maupin in New York
Why we love it: Chambers often paints figures engaged in acts of contemplation or recreation. His works pose contemporary questions about race and identity while engaging with long-standing historical and literary concerns. Chambers is also a writer, and many of his works draw on the genre of magical realism, as well as the writings of WEB Du Bois.
Kohshin Finley, Kis (2019). Courtesy of Tilton Gallery.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Current City: Los Angeles
Average:Finley is known for his greynessportraits.
Gallery:His work is currently visible in the group exhibition “Portraits” at New York’s Tilton Gallery.
Why we love it: Finley’s paintings document the lives of his friends and family; he often takes photos on an instant camera while on the move, which he then uses as a base for his oil paintings. The artist works in grisaille and his paintings can have an effect similar to black and white photography, drawing attention to the details of his scenes.
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