Thursday, August 2, 2012

Motley, Archibald John, Jr.

oil on canvas
91.4 x 121.3 cm (36 x 47 3/4 in.)
location unknown

Archibald John Motley, Junior (1891 - 1981) was an American painter. He studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago during the 1910s. He is most famous for his colorful chronicling of the African-American experience during the 1920s and 1930s, and is considered one of the major contributors to the Harlem Renaissance. He specialized in portraiture and saw it "as a means of affirming racial respect and race pride."

"And that's why I say that racism is the first thing that they have got to get out of their heads, forget about this damned racism, to hell with racism ... That means nothing to an artist. We're all human beings. And the sooner that's forgotten and the sooner that you can come back to yourself and do the things that you want to do." (Motley)

His night scenes and crowd scenes, heavily influenced by jazz culture, are perhaps his most popular and most prolific. He depicted a vivid, urban black culture that bore little resemblance to the conventional and marginalizing rustic images of black Southerners so popular in the cultural eye. It is important to note, however, that it was not his community he was representing. Unlike many other Harlem Renaissance artists, he never lived in Harlem - he was born in New Orleans and spent the majority of his life in Chicago. He married a white woman and was among the affluent and elite black community of Chicago. He was not a part of that urban experience in the same way his subjects were.
He was awarded the Harmon Foundation award in 1928, and then became the first African-American to have a one-man exhibit in New York City.