Artist
Robert Colescott
American visual artist

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Robert Colescott
American visual artist
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Birth Date

August 26, 1925

Death Date

June 04, 2009

Arty Fact

alampel's picture

Contributor

Robert Colescott had the uncanny ability to criticize and question everything without getting entirely too cynical.

Robert Colescott was uniquely attuned to art history’s exclusion of people of color, and he basically made a career out of using its styles, themes, and ideas against itself. Pretty badass if you ask me. As a trained artist, Colescott’s education inundated him with the glory of western European art history. Even though he studied with the technologically-minded visionary Fernand Léger for a year in Paris, he was still trapped by the dominant, but limited, views on the study of art.

During his time in Paris, Colescott constantly visited museums, soaking in all the art he could. There’s no doubt that he was seeing some great art. However, his decision to use the greats as fodder for paintings about racial tensions and decolonizing the canon didn’t occur to him until he finally left the Western world. In the 1960s, Colescott visited Egypt to study and teach at the American Research Center in Cairo. This trip, and his subsequent return to the United States during the height of Black liberation, inspired him to finally embrace his African heritage and black identity.

Living, studying, and working outside of the Western world helped Colescott understand the damaging legacy of these famous images and the role that art played in subjugating black bodies. Unlike the beautiful paintings of Kerry James Marshall, Colescott’s work is garish and disruptive. They’re more like the disturbing worlds that reside within the works of Nicole Eisenman. But unlike the generally off-putting nature of Eisenman’s work, it’s easy to see that Colescott is making very specific points about race and identity. Despite these heavy themes, humor is Colescott’s ammo. His paintings rely on irony, sarcasm, and biting wit to dismantle the idea of a singular narrative and correct the historical record by inserting his voice.

Colescott’s art demands to be seen and heard, and it seems like the art world might finally be ready to look and listen...a full decade after his death. The first Colescott retrospective debuted in 2019 at the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati and will be touring to museums like the Portland Art Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center through 2021 and possibly (hopefully) beyond.

Sources

Sources

  1. Cutler, Jody B. “Art Revolution: Politics and Pop in the Robert Colescott Painting George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900–Present). Fall 2009 vol. 8 (2). http://www.americanpopularculture.
  2. Dafoe, Taylor. “Robert Colescott Influenced a Generation of African American Artists.” Artnet. Exhibitions. https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/he-always-put-his-finger-in-the-woun...
  3. Seattle Art Museum. Figuring History. http://figuringhistory.site.seattleartmuseum.org/robert-colescott/. Accessed 25 November 2019.
  4. Smith, Roberta. “Robert Colescott, Painter Who Toyed with Race and Sex, Dies at 83.” The New York Times. Art & Design. 9 June 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/arts/design/10colescott.html?searchRe.... Accessed 25 November 2019.
  5. Valentine, Victoria L. “‘Art & Race Matters.’” Culture Type. 18 September 2019. https://www.culturetype.com/2019/09/18/art-race-matters-first-comprehens.... Accessed 25 November 2019.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Robert Colescott

Robert H. Colescott (August 26, 1925 – June 4, 2009) was an American painter. He is known for satirical genre and crowd subjects, often conveying his exuberant, comical, or bitter reflections on being African American. He studied with Fernand Léger in Paris. Colescott's work is in many major public collections, including (in addition to the Albright-Knox) those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Robert Colescott.