Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I recently visited Harlem's famed Schomburg Center to view the brilliant, groundbreaking, before-it's-time work of the greatest African American Modern artist, Mr. Aaron Douglas - a man who's work greatly inspires my own work and vision of modernity.
Aaron Douglas is a famed Harlem Renaissance artist who rubbed elbows with, inspired and worked with other greats such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Romare Bearden. His work was an inspired mix of Art Deco, Abstract, German and West African art forms and Egyptian wall paintings, all with a supremely modern, Afro-American sentiment and POV. His work always married the history of African and American blacks with the new progress and continued hopes of the people he loved so dearly.
Interesting enough, when looking at his work, I got the feeling that the French artist and creator of the iconic persona known as Grace Jones, Jean Paul Goude, had also done his share of Harlem Renaissance research. Of course, their inspiration may spring from the same source, Africa, but the stark, graphic and modern shapes look very similar to me. Also, Aaron's focus on integrating then-modern day blacks with industrial/technological imagery seems like a spring board for JPG's depiction of blacks as motorcycles, automatic garages and the like.
Aaron's work is very much about his desire to reflect, inspire and document the rise of his people while JPG's is very much about the pure sexualization, exaggeration, animalization and objectification of blacks. Aaron's was about moving us forward while JPG's was about boxing us into his own comfort zone. These very disparate starting points wield such drastically different interpretations of similar subjects. But, both are extremely beautiful, inspiring and artistically valid to me.