• Kevin Luo

Some of the Most Important Artists of our Time

Art is a universal language that does not discriminate; it combines the imagination of the human mind with the distinctive experience of each artist, and it is that difference that makes each art piece unique and beautiful. With the on-going #BLM movement, let's take look at some of the most influential and forward-thinking African American artists of our time.




Kara Walker

Image via The Harvard Gazette


Born in Stockton, California, Kara Walker attended the Atlanta College of Art where she received her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in 1991 and later went on to receive her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) from Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Walker received international recognition through her cut-paper silhouette that narrates the history of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. Other mediums included sculptures, such as the "The Sugar Sphinx" that debuted in 2014, a large sugar-coated sculpture of a woman situated in the old Brooklyn's Domino sugar factory, to remember and expose the tragic history of slavery in America.


Image via TheArtHistory


Her work usually includes the usage of silhouette techniques, with inspiration in victorian-era ladies' art of shadow portrait, such as her debut piece in 1994 called Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. A 7-meter long installation at The Drawing Center in New York City. By the beginning of the 21st Century, Walker began to make films that bring her installation to life. Upon her debut in 1994, Walker became one the youngest recipient of the McArthur fellowship in 1997 and represented the United States to the São Paulo Art Biennial in 2002. Kara Walker later held her first survey exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2007, which traveled to Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, inspiring countless young artists and ensuring history is preserved and remembered.





Jean-Michael Basquiat

Image via Sotheby's


Born in Brooklyn, New York, and of Haitian and Puerto Rican Descent, Basquiat is arguably one of the most famous American artists whose influence reached well beyond his time. Basquiat first caught the eye of the public after creating "SAMO" with his friend Al Diaz, a graffiti tag used by the duo from 1977 to 1980 found mostly in Manhatten. Regarding the tag, Basquiat once said "It was supposed to be a logo, like Pepsi", the was tag discontinued following the end of the collaboration, with a series of tags declaring "SAMO is dead".



Basquiat's subject usually includes elusive symbols and diagrams from his Caribbean heritage, and his style is often categorized as neo-expressionism, "a return to figuration in expressive, gestural, and sometimes brashly aggressive works" as defined by artsy. One of Basquiat's most iconic creation is the 3-pointed crown, which represents: the poet, the musician, and the great boxing champion. His popularity and recognition soon rise and he met Andy Warhol in 1983; Warhol later became Basquiat's idol and mentor. Warhol and Basquait began working on collaborated paintings in 1984, but sadly, the collaboration ended following Warhol's death in 1987 and Basquiat passing in 1988. One of Basquait work Untitled(1982) created history at Sotheby's Auction, selling for $110.5 million dollars and was purchased by Yusaku Maezawa in the spring of 2018, the highest ever paid for an American Artist.


Image via Sotheby's





David Hammons


David Hammons was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1943, and moved to Los Angeles in 1963 to pursue art study. In Los Angeles, Hammons came across Charles White, a realist artist, and activist at the Otis Art Institue where Hammons was taking night classes. Despite completing his art study elsewhere, Hammons retained his respect for White's approach to art-making. Hammons continued down the path of realism, making it more contemporary other than traditional. By the 1960s, Hammons began to use his own body to make prints and artwork. By 1974, Hammons relocated to New York City where he began his practice of sculpture making with the use of detritus from urban African American Life.


Image via MoMA


Hammon's works are known for their interpretation of African-American art history, connecting the traditional white sphere of arts with the history of slavery and oppression. Hammons would usually voice out his opinion on stereotypes, he once said "The art audience is the worst audience in the world", because they are too educated and only criticize instead of understanding. In 1991, Hammons received the MacArthur Genius Grant and secured his place in one of the most influential 20th to the 21st-century artists.



David Hammons selling snowballs of various sizes in New York City

Image via Radical Presence NY



Image via Dazed

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