African-American Art Leads Celebration of Black History Month

Clarke Auction will offer a number of important and stunning works by notable and honored Black American blackhistorymnthartArtists on February 23rd.

African-American art, and especially pieces created in times of significant change and growth in America, can speak to many generations and strike the chords of both past and ongoing social issues. Whether the artist’s work directly deals with social concerns, or simply represents art as beauty, they all remain relevant and moving today. With 2014 ushering in the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there is no better time to celebrate the work of African-American artists of all mediums.

In honor of Black History Month, Clarke Auction of Larchmont, New York, is proud to represent a number of important works by African-American artists on February 23rd. The highlights of the fine art selection include such socially important artists as Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Sam Middleton, Marion Perkins, and Mitchell Caton.

Of the several art works by Romare Bearden, one of particular cultural and historical importance is the pencil signed mixed media collage entitled “Black American in Search of His Identity…” The incredibly emotional and socially thought provoking piece was commissioned by the Brooklyn League of Afro-Americans and Brooklyn College for the 1969 exhibition “Afro-American Artists: Since 1950.” The work will be accompanied by the original printing of the exhibition booklet which features the collage on the cover.

The collage depicts two faces, one of an artist searching for, and possibly creating his own identity, opposite the face of an African tribal mask. The “artist” figure is represented by a number of dichotomous images of both triumph and tragedy, including cuts of social injustice, violence, peace, and laughter. Within the artist’s face are the faces of men, women, and children of various emotional degrees, including “everyday” people side-by-side with famous civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

An important and profound aspect of the artist figure is the incompleteness of the face. The identity of the African American artistseems to remain unfulfilled. The blank space at the center of the composition highlights the disjunction between the artist of present, and the tribal king of his past.

The work comes to auction at a special time, as another monumental anniversary of an important time of American history is upon us.

Aligned with the spirit of civil rights, there is an evocation of strength in the artist’s imagery, while the simplicity of a regal mask opposite him exemplifies an apparent shift in identity. The provoking pictures in the artist’s face also signify the importance of the American experience in the formation of a people’s cultural identity, and although a primarily Afro-centric work, the piece reaches across all social and cultural groups to speak to a very monumental and influential period in the history of a country and a people.

Also featured by Romare Bearden is a 1964 Photostat projection entitled “The Prevalence of Rite: Conjur Woman.” The Photostat projection’s original collage was exhibited in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971. The piece will be accompanied by catalog for the MOMA exhibition. Additional lots by Bearden will include a bright etching and aquatint entitled “Carolina Interior,” a similar etching and aquatint entitled “Carolina Morning” from the same estate, a rare untitled lithograph in the form of a stylized American flag with black figure, and a 1968 color screenprint of Martin Luther King Jr. in the pulpit.

While Bearden’s featured mixed media work speaks to the search for identity, Norman Lewis’s abstract paintings show a concrete example of an artist who found an artistic identity of his own. The four separate Lewis works available on February 23rd are distinctly different from each other, but all profess solidarity as a collection.

Of the four, one blue and black hued oil on paper of an abstract procession, and another oil and ink on paper of the same subject, highlight the individuality and style that Lewis gifted to the art world. Each painting has a distinct blending of colors that make for a seamless, flowing backdrop. These examples of Lewis’s work highlight the artist’s own interpretation of national social issues as well. To Lewis, the idea of a procession could represent the celebrations of a spiritual ritual, or carry the hateful message of a Ku Klux Klan rally. The message, then, is even more relevant in cultural identity of individuals, as individuals can form groups with those of shared values, thus determining the climate of their social environment.

An important overlap in artistic mediums by African-American artists featured in the February 23rd auction involves a single subject matter, namely Betty Mitchell. Mitchell was the wife of Mitchell Caton, the celebrated Chicago muralist, and is the sole subject of his wonderfully delicate figural portrait. Using a limited number of colors, the charcoal on paper depiction of Mitchell captures both his affection and her emotion thorough a realistic and transparent facial expression. The work is not only a representation of the artist’s wife, but a literal homage to an African-American woman.

Mitchell is also the subject of a sculpted marble bust by a highly respected Chicago artist named Marion Perkins. Mitchell and Perkins were close friends and the marble sculpture is another example of the diversity in talent by African-American artists. The sculpture has a polished face and neck which contradict the raw chiseled base and hair of the bust. The change in the sculpture’s texture is a beautiful juxtaposition that highlights the subject’s face.

While the aforementioned works are the features of the upcoming sale at Clarke, there will be several other pieces of fine art by African-American artists. Others include works by Ernie Barnes, Sam Middleton, Noah Jemison, Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, Robert Blackburn and more.

For more information regarding the special African-American selection in the February 23rd sale at Clarke Auction, please visit the catalog at The catalog will be updated daily. For appointments to consign or sell, please contact the gallery directly at 914 833 8336 or email








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