"Too many Negro artists go to Europe and come back imitators of Cézanne, Matisse, or Picassso; and this attitude is not only a weakness of the artists, but of their racial public."

--Sargent Claude Johnson, African-American artist

"On seeing the work of Paul Cézanne I got the connection. Then I saw the work of Picasso and I saw how Cézanne, Picasso, and the African had a terrific sense of form. The master I chiefly admired at that time was Paul Cézanne; then Picasso, who was certainly bolder and more courageous in his cubist work. Then when I saw his painting called Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon--cubist-like girls with black masks on--the whole thing was clarified for me."

--Hale A. Woodruff, African-American artist

"Everybody felt this influence, for Picasso was the master of our age. Even Picasso was influenced by Picasso! But when I first painted bulls in Spain, I had not seen his bulls. And I had done my own paintings in a synthetic style, in an attempt to simplify my forms, before discovering his. Our plastic interpretations simply coincided. I already knew the Spanish temperament, for I had lived it, suffered it, in the country itself. Rather than an influence, we might call it a pervasion of the spirit. There was no question of imitation, but Picasso may easily have been present in my spirit, for nothing in him was alien or strange to me. On the other hand, I derived all my confidence in what I was doing from his approval."

--Wifredo Lam, Cuban artist [Callaloo article]
    As exemplified by the dialogue between these quotes, the appropriateness of embracing Modernist and Cubist styles was a site of contention for artists working within the African-American tradition. Reflective of the pervasively racist attitudes about the capabilities of African-Americans or of those of African descent, the fact that the new artistic movements transforming Euro-American artistic tradition were indebted to traditional African folk art went consistently un-noted. Furthermore, African-American artists who embraced the new artistic movements were often criticized as mimics of European and American artists, when in fact, artists such as Picasso were mimicking, in part, African arts.

This attitude dramatizes the inability of African-American artists to achieve societal recognition as artists in their own right, capable of participating in the avant-garde, and of holding a sphere of influence which extends beyond only African-American art.

Nevertheless, African-American artists did indeed create significant ground-breaking works within the Cubist and Modernist styles, as evidenced by this particular gallery of Callaloo cover artwork. Although, even today, the first reaction to these works may be to think of how they mirror the works of masters Picasso and Matisse, this does not reflect a derivativeness in the works themselves, but rather entrenched mainstream attitudes about what art is and who can create it. Because the works of Picasso and Matisse are so familiar, while these works are so unknown, it may seem that Picasso and Matisse were the ones who influenced these artists, and that these African-American artists are the ones who were inspired by others. However, as Wifredo Lam expressed, African-American artists were living, reacting to, and expressing their times by creating avant-garde artwork, to the same extent that Picasso and Matisse were.


Vol. 2, No. 1 (Feb., 1979)

Detail of Painting by John Biggers
Contribution of the Negro Woman to American Life and Education


Vol. 11, No. 1 (Winter, 1988)

The Jungle
Wifredo Lam, 1943
Gouache on paper mounted on canvas
7'10¼ x 7'6½"


Vol. 13, No. 2 (Spring, 1990)

New Moon
Laurence Hurst
Pastel, pencil, and ink
7½ by 10½ inches


Vol. 14, No. 4 (Autumn, 1991)

Man With Snake
Randell Henry, 1990
Mixed media/paper
29½" x 41¼"


Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring, 1992)

Conflicts and Tensions
Wilson Bigaud, 20 June 1957
Oil on masonite
30" x 36"


Vol. 17, No. 3 (Summer, 1994)

Autorretrato VIII, 1988
María de Mater O'Neiìl
Acrylic, oil stick and gouache on canvas
76" x 62"

Previous Gallery

Galleries Menu

Next Gallery