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Filtering by Tag: Art

Painters Painting the Black Body

Mario Moore

Painting the Black body in the expanse of history has been a tool for exploitation, admiration, jealousy, sexuality, exoticism and many other things. Usually through the hands and eyes of white male artists, the Black body has served these positions ultimately to the service of the white figures that occupy the forefront of these works of art. There are some historical exceptions of white artists honoring a Black figure, like Velazquez painting of Juan de Pareja or the painting of Alexandre Dumas by Oliver Pichat. But even these anomalies in history are only a small speck in the large canon of art.

Lately, there have been artists who are turning the tables on this narrative—Black painters that are devoted to representing the Black body through their eyes. But this isn’t anything new. The artist Henry Ossawa Tanner gave us insight into Black lives through his painterly hand in the 19th century. There were other Black artists working during that time but many stayed clear from representing the Black figure because they were afraid they would be unable to make a living. Today, there are more Black painters taking up the mantel to represent Black figures within their work. With the new retrospective of Kerry James Marshall, one of the leaders in putting the Black body at the forefront of his painting narrative, there are countless Black painters working today who are focusing on the representation of Black people in their work.  Here is the first installment of four contemporary painters that focus primarily on representing the Black body:


1.     Jennifer Packer

Untitled, 24 x 36, Oil on canvas, 2014

And Dreaming, 10 x 20, Oil on canvas, 2015

Looking at Jennifer’s work, the viewer can get lost in the form and absence of color in certain areas that have been wiped out. But this absence of color or erasure can be seen as a protective covering for the lives of the Black figures that she represents. We are at the mercy of what she wants to reveal and what she wants to hide. You may see a knee or the face of a figure in a field of color. She provides a safe space for the Black figure to reside that was ultimately exploited throughout history. She is a painter that gives us an intimate psychological view of figurative painting.

Check out more of her work here: Jennifer Packer



2.     Derek Fordjour

Double Down, 60 x 40, Oil on panel, 2016

Fearless Foursome, 2013

I have not seen many of Derek’s pieces in person but from what I have seen the pieces are always dope. His work uses games as metaphors and how they can be applied to our living experiences.  From board games, to the confetti of winning a championship, and basketball uniforms we see all there is about the spectacle of achievement and failure. There are often images of blocks and athletes that stand upon them within his paintings. I can’t help but draw comparisons between the slave auction blocks and the selling of Black bodies that represent the athletes within his work.

See more of his work here: Derek Fordjour

3.     Tylonn Sawyer

Congregation MLK, 120 x 48, Oil on canvas, 2015

Class Photo #1 Baldwin, 72 x 48, Oil on canvas, 2015


I’m used to seeing Tylonn’s large portrait paintings. But in his recent series, Sawyer uses historical black figures as masks. They act as the embodiment of revolution and they grace the faces of multiple figures in his paintings. Essentially, these paintings are a call to action. They allow us to look at the times we live in and imagine how Dr. King or Nina Simone would take action in the present.

Check out more of his work here: Tylonn Sawyer


4.     Senghor Reid


Senghor’s paintings show Black figures bathing in colorful light. His paintings show delight in the texture and body of paint. He is unafraid to use color and his figures often sit in front of the clouds. His pieces show a pleasure in the act of painting but also show a very intense gaze from the people within his paintings that contrast the bright colors seen in his work.

Check out more of his work here: Senghor Reid    

Please let me know of any other painters you think I should feature next. Comment below.






The Black Count, Kehinde Wiley and Napoleon

Mario Moore

What’s up, folks. 


As a painter, I often wonder about some art critics’ views on certain shows. Many of these critics understand art history, but cannot grasp history itself, whatsoever. Their mistakes are understandable. They’ve been fed historical lies—byproducts of history’s whitewashing. But they can't remain ignorant forever.

A good example of this askew thinking is an excerpt from a review by Jessica Dawson on the Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic show, which is currently at the Seattle Museum:

"What does it mean to put a young black man on a horse and call him Napoleon? If it isn't dangling a fantasy and false hope, then at least it implies that young urban blacks are in desperate need of uplift. You call that empowerment?"

This review by Jessica Dawson in the Village Voice is a year old and so was the opening at the Brooklyn Museum for Wiley's traveling retrospective, but people should understand history before they make these problematic claims.

So, how are The Black Count, Kehinde Wiley and Napoleon even connected? Believe it or not, it's painting. Kehinde Wiley is a painter most people know; you may have seen his work on the television show, Empire. The Black Count is a recent book written by Tom Reiss about French military legend Thomas-Alexandre Dumas—more on him later. Napoleon Bonaparte is the short French guy everyone either loves or hates. 

There is one painting by Wiley that Dawson briefly touched on in her review, but I am going to tell you the huge mistake she made and what it means for the representation of Black men.

Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, 2005


Jaques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1801

Wiley’s painting, is a direct homage to the18th century French painter, Jacques-Louis David work, Napoleon Crossing the Alps. It’s the same painting. The difference between the works is Wiley's all to well-known formula of swapping out White people and inserting a Black person. But that "swapping" is why this piece is so important. Napoleon was not the first member of his troops to cross the Alps.

Paul Delaroche, Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, 1850

He didn’t even cross the Alps on horseback. According to history, Napoleon crossed the Alps on a donkey after the initial taking of the mountain by his troops.

The original 18th century painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, was first and foremost propaganda. Bonaparte asked David to portray him "calm, mounted on a fiery steed" (Calme sur un cheval fougueux). What is really being represented in the David painting is a denial by Napolean to allow Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who commanded and led the Army of the Alps, to be glorified in paint form.

Dumas was ahead of his time, so much so, that many legends of his battles and stature cloud his name.

Dude was Black; born to a French white slave owner and slave mother from Saint-Domingue, now modern Haiti. Dumas is also the father of famous writer Alexandre Dumas who wrote, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

Oliver Pichat, Général Thomas Alexandre Dumas, 1790s

The reason Dumas has remained obscure until the recent publishing of the Black Count is because Napoleon was throwing mad shade. Napoleon tried everything in his power to erase Dumas from history. He went as far as eliminating a lot of the extremely progressive laws in 18th century France that allowed a Black man to ascend to one of the highest ranks in a continental European army. Dumas held the distinction of being the highest-ranking Black commander in the entire history of any white military until 1989, when American Colin Powell became a four-star general—the closest United States equivalent of Général d'Armée, Dumas' highest rank.

Dumas was a beast. Like David’s painting, Wiley inscribed the names of generals on the rocks—even added the name of the sitter in his painting. But both paintings fail to list General Dumas’ name. Wiley may not know it, but he has provided a way for the representation of this powerful historical figure to be brought into a contemporary light. Wiley’s painting, in conversation with its historic counterpart by the artist, Jaques-Louis David, has unlocked the door to expose hidden truths.

So, my response to Dawson’s question, "What does it mean to put a young black man on a horse and call him Napoleon” is, What does it mean to put the fraud Napoleon on horseback and call him General Thomas Alexandre Dumas?

If you want to know all about Napoleon’s jealous streak and just how great Dumas was, check out the book, The Black Count.

By:  M. Moore


Check out some Art

Mario Moore

What's up art enthusiasts,

I will be contributing to the BMG's Art page. Taking you to some of the most amazing art openings and showing you the world of contemporary art. As an artist myself and a resident of New York I will make sure you get a wide view of art curated through my unique perspective. Introducing you to some of the hot up and coming artist and convincing you why that art print you bought from Walmart was a bad decision.

I will talk about the importance of art as cultural content and how collecting art can be valuable for personal reasons as well as an investment. Some people see it as excess or a want, I view art as a need. From early cave paintings, Egyptian Hieroglyphs to contemporary art, these art histories all carry the human story forward.

So from private art openings, museum shows, to studio visits, you will be seeing some pretty dope stuff. There will be a focus on Black artist killing the game and plenty of visual stimulation to keep you looking.

Until next time check out some dope artist that have been in the game for a while:

School of Beauty, School of Culture. Kerry James Marshall, 2012

Carousel Form II. Sam Gilliam, 1969

Aesthetics of Funk. Xenobia Bailey, 2011

Four at Sea, Shirley Woodson Reid, 2006

You Became Playmate to the Patriarch and their Daughter. Carrie Mae Weems, 1995

Mario Moore