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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.






You don't have to be rich to buy art

Mario Moore


Many people collect art for different reasons. I collect art because I'm an artist and I know other dope artist's work that I appreciate. An art collection is like an extension of yourself-- things you admire, things that challenge your thinking and things you can't live without.

Collecting art is not just something for the rich. Last year, I went to the 30 Americans private opening at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The show is a part of the Rubell collection and has been exhibited at several museums across America.

The Rubells have a private museum in Miami where their art collection is housed. They own the kind of art you see in the news or listed in Christies’ latest record-breaking auction. But their collection didn't begin that way. They started small like many collectors do-- usually during their college years. As the Rubells became more established and successful, they expanded their collection but always bought what they could afford.

During the talk they gave for the exhibition, there was a woman who wanted to know if she could buy a Kehinde Wiley painting on the low-low. I'm not knocking her hustle; she wanted to see what the prices were for something super small. She held her hands together really close and said, "How about this small?". If she was able to buy one of his pieces for the price I think she was aiming for, I probably would have been next in line.

 The thing about this artist is that most of his pieces-- even the smallest ones-- start off in the tens of thousands of dollars, probably more. The Rubells told the woman that Wiley was now out of their reach and that she should consider local and emerging artists to begin her collection. That was the best advice they could have given her. 

The Rubells and curator during their talk at the Detroit Institute of Arts

The Rubells and curator during their talk at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Opening reception for 30 Americans

Opening reception for 30 Americans

Most people believe you have to be wealthy to buy works of art. They see it as excess, but I believe it is a necessity. When you walk into any home, you will find pictures hanging on the wall. Photos of family and friends, and plenty of framed posters, knock-off prints from street fairs, or corny "art" from stores, like Walmart. 

If you fit easily in the category of folks that have framed posters of the man holding the earth on his shoulders with his queen sitting on top or the one with the black woman pregnant with earth and many more I could describe-- if those images somehow compel or interest you enough to purchase and place on your wall, you should definitely consider buying work from an emerging artist.

 Yes, you may have to pay a little more, but this work of art can be seen as an investment and will be more affordable for you, considering the artist has not yet made any huge sales. You will also be supporting a living, working artist. Hello, people.

Most people don't know that some galleries and artist are open to putting you on a payment plan. It might sound crazy, but get that joint on layaway. It's much better than the Walmart wall art plan you had in mind.
The Rubells built their collection using this type of payment. The Rubells said they once asked an artist if they could pay 40 dollars for the month during one of their art-a-way plans and the artist agreed. My point: ask and you may receive. 

So if you are searching for some interesting work to buy, ditch that print you were looking at of the man and woman chiseling one another out of rock and check out your local art galleries, go to art openings and search the papers for art events. The best way to get in on the ground floor is to go to open studios where artists allow the public to come into their creative spaces and see what they have been working on.

Opening reception at Red Bull House of Art

Opening reception at Red Bull House of Art

Me working in the studio

Me working in the studio

 These are the places where you can start and in a few years, you will have an amazing art collection of original work from dope, living artists. Trust me. The walls of your home will thank you.



5 Tips on how to make Moves as an Artist

Mario Moore

So you’re an artist and you want to know how to navigate the “art world” better. Well, I don’t have all the answers but I know a few things that could help you along the way. Whether you’re just getting started with your art practice or you’ve been quietly creating for quite some time, ready to show the world what you have been up to, here’s a list of 5 things that can get you steps closer to having your work shown on the freshly painted white walls of galleries.


Michael Jackson watching Stevie Wonder create

Michael Jackson watching Stevie Wonder create

1.       Find a Mentor

This is so important. Now, way back in the 16th century there were things called Artists Guilds. Within these guilds, masters were registered, pursued their own artistic practice and took on apprentices. These apprentices worked in their master’s studios for years until they gained all the knowledge and approval to register with the guild and take on their own apprentices. So, you need to find your present day “master”; I know, not the best term but essentially your mentor. This will be someone who has been at this art thing for quite some time and will be able to show you the ropes of what you’re interested in.

I have been very blessed to have several mentors. This is not the only route; everyone’s journey will be different. It doesn’t matter if the mentor you seek has been involved in showing his/her work on a local, national or international scale. What matters is even if they’re making artwork in a quiet space and only a few see it, they will have more knowledge than you and that’s a candidate worthy to have an apprenticeship with. How do you go about finding this magical person, you may ask? My answer? Be proactive. If you’re in art school, connect with those whom you feel can help you on your artist journey.

Emails can be tricky if you haven’t connected with them in person because nobody likes some random person hitting them up, but you may be surprised. There are artists out there who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others. If you get the cold shoulder from someone you admire, try someone who is more willing. Remember, if you are going to pursue someone’s valuable time, you better be willing to work hard.


2.       Art School

School is not for everyone. I get it. But art school is a place where you can find most of the things on my short list, where you can explore your “crazy” ideas. Now since this is The Black Men’s Guide, I’m going to keep it real because BMG is the new Black: art school can be difficult for Black students. Like Greg said on our Instagram page last week, “being black is lit”. It is. But some challenges can come in the pursuit of happiness. Yes, that includes art education. The reason being, is that the best schools are predominately white institutions with majority white faculty that fails to understand the artwork the students of color are creating. This can be a huge psychological obstacle, especially if your artwork deals with issues of race. Some professors would rather talk around these issues out of fear or assign racist ideas to work simply because you are Black. But the positive is, art school can be the place where you’ll meet other students exploring similar issues in their artwork. A place of comradery.

Art school will give you an idea about how your work may be perceived in the real world. You will also meet art curators, art critics, and possibly art collectors. So go ahead. Give it a try.


Artist Keith Haring working on a mural in Philadelphia

Artist Keith Haring working on a mural in Philadelphia

3.       Art Community

If you choose not to pursue the last two options, this is a big one. Get involved with the art community in the city you live in. Find out where the latest art opening will be. Make a list of all the galleries you’re interested in and visit. Look for artwork that you admire and talk to the artists that created it.

Having an art community is big because creating can be an isolating process. But the community you connect with will give you people you can bounce ideas off of, giving you a break from the typical solo art studio.

Research art organizations doing murals or benefits for the community and see how you can get involved.


4.       Be Seen

You cannot just sit and make work quietly, you need to be seen. If you’re not David Hammons, it’s not going to work. I don’t know, maybe you do have that special persona where you don't have to be seen. But if you are like the rest of us, you need to go to art openings and art events. You also have to talk to people at these things. Trust me, I am an artist who actually prefers looking at the artwork over socializing but remember, there may be someone there who can help you navigate the art world.

Also, being seen does not mean going to one opening every six months and saying to yourself, “Whew! That’s enough. I did my part.” You must be consistent. You don’t have to become a regular but you want to be in a place where you become comfortable in these spaces. These are the places where you can be introduced to a curator or where someone may approach you with, “Hey! I’ve have seen you around. What do you do?” Attending openings is the big bowl of networking. Do it. For the sake of your art and to support your fellow artists.


Jean-Michel Basquiat creating

Jean-Michel Basquiat creating

5.       Make Work

I cannot stress this enough. Make artwork. I mean like, all the time. You should be making something, even if you have a space too small to create in. Make art anyway. You cannot expect to show your work --or sell it for that matter-- if you have the same thing that everyone has already seen.

It should go without saying, but if all you have are three pieces that you made 4 years ago, no one will take you seriously.

The Golden Rule: Consistently make new work!

Again, this is not an art handbook on how to do it, but a few starting points that has helped me on my journey.

THE BMG would love to hear your thoughts! comment below.