Monday, July 5, 2010

The Early Sixties Paintings

Faith Ringgold, "The Tenement," Oil Painting 1960.  
All rights reserved copyright 1960 Faith Ringgold. 

   In the course of my life, I have written a lot about this painting by Faith Ringgold.  It is called The Tenement (1960) and it was deeply influenced by Pablo Picasso who was a very important artist in all of our lives.  Faith had every book ever written at that point about him.  She read them all and I read them all because I tried my best to read everything Faith read.  I was eight years old in 1960 but I didn't let that stop me.  I pretended I could read (and put my notes and scribbles in her books) until I could actually read.  Looking back on it I can't recall when it all began to make sense but I do know that the stories that were written about Picasso were always compelling.  The photographs of him in his many houses and in the South of France were even better.

   At some point it became extremely unfashionable among a certain set to acknowledge Picasso as important as an artist.  I wrote about the early influence of his work on Faith in "Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual," and Faith immortalized the same in The French Collection, most particularly in her "Picasso's Studio," but among others Picasso has been dropped from the discussion for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly relevant to his artistic value but then that's just my opinion.

   These are the reasons Picasso has been dropped from the discussion: he was extremely sexist and mean to women; he was a narcissist of epic proportions and not in a good way; he ripped off as much stuff from other artists as possible, first and most significantly in this case, African art and the entire continent of Africa. I personally love much of his work and don't think art should be judged by the relative saintliness of the artist.  More to the point, you can not possibly understand Faith's early work or any of her subsequent work without a strong familiarity with the life and career of Picasso.  When she says Modern Painting, she takes for granted that Picasso's work is a major part of that picture.  She also takes for granted the implicit and explicit value of West and Central African sculpture to Modern Painting, but that's another story for another day.

1 comment:

pattricejones said...

I saw a reproduction of this painting for the first time today, in American People, Black Light, and I am very happy to see a larger and more vivid reproduction here.

I hear what you are saying about Picasso, but I see Jacob Lawrence in the angles and the energy.

By the way, I deeply appreciated the text you provided for American People, Black Light. Reading about your reactions to the evolving paintings as a child led me to look at them differently and more deeply than I might otherwise have done.


About Me

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I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.