By Ashley Weber, Staff Writer for the Hillside Chronicle
A few weeks ago, the marketing department at the Nasher Museum at Duke University invited Hillside students, along with a few other high school students, to the premiere of the Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist exhibition. The exhibition was created and organized by Richard J. Powell. His goal was to bring recognition to one of the major contributors to the Harlem Renaissance, Archibald J. Motley.
Motley was born in New Orleans, Louisiana but lived and worked in Chicago for most of his life. Mr. Motley was one of the first classically trained African American artists in the Twentieth Century. Mr. Motley had a way of bringing his portraits to life. In the exhibit, Mr. Motley has portraits of his family and friends, Bronzeville Street club scenes, painting of his time spent in Paris, as well as other experiences from the various places he traveled.
One of my favorite paintings was a portrait of his grandmother. The painting looked so realistic I felt as if I was seeing her in person. Another favorite painting of mine was of a woman who was one-eighth black. This really showed how talented he was as a painter and how he could capture all shades of skin color. One of Mr. Motley’s famous quotes is, “I don’t paint black people, I paint colored people.” In his painting he had a variety of shades of white and black people.
Mr. Motley had a true talent for capturing images as they really are.
We landed the cover of INDYweek, thanks to a thoughtful and nuanced review by Chris Vitiello.
The cover image is a detail of Motley’s irresistable 1961 oil painting, “Hot Rhythm”. The play on words is fun, too; a few smartphones around here auto-correct the artist’s name to heavy metal rock band Mötley Crue.
We always appreciate Vitiello’s bright eyes on our exhibitions.
“Instead of telling the story of an artist’s development,” Vitiello writes, “the show presents Motley as a major American Expressionist painter.” He goes on to point out how this exhibition, which originated at the Nasher Museum, seeks to restore Motley to the annals of art history. “In this, it answers a big question: Why isn’t Archibald Motley better known?” Vitiello writes. “How come museum gift shops stock Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden calendars but not Motley ones? His Jazz Age scenes of raucous nightclubs are Harlem Renaissance slideshow standards, but his name remains outside the mainstream that Lawrence and Bearden inhabit. While the other painters are wonderful stylists, Motley is a full-blown Expressionist.”
“After its Nasher debut, Archibald Motley continues on to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,” Vitiello writes. “After that, Motley will likely be known as a great American Expressionist whose critical vision reveals more about race in the 20th century than almost any other artist of his time. Maybe he’ll finally get that kitchen-wall calendar after all.”
We also enjoyed how Vitiello considered the Motley exhibition alongside N.C. State’s Gregg Museum’s presentation of Phyllis Galembo’s large-format photographs of West African ceremonial and tribal costuming.
IMAGE: Cover of INDYweek, February 12, 2014. Archibald J. Motley Jr., Hot Rhythm, 1961. Oil on canvas, 40 x 48.375 inches (101.6 x 122.9 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.
They talked about Sweet Tarts, the childhood candy. They talked about Easter pastels.
In the end, guest curator Richard J. Powell and chief preparator Brad Johnson, in consultation with other museum staff, selected eight pastel colors for the walls of Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.
White walls would not have been the right choice to enhance the vibrant, unexpected colors on Motley’s canvases. White walls would have “pulled something away” from the works, Brad said. “It definitely needed some color.”
TOP: Chief Preparator Brad Johnson considers a dizzying choice of colors in a Pantone book. MIDDLE: Gallery view of pastel-colored walls, with Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s Mending Socks, 1924, in foreground.Collection of the Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.2801. © Valerie Gerrard Browne. In background, Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s Brown Girl After the Bath, 1931. Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Gift of an anonymous donor, 2007.015. © Valerie Gerrard Browne. Photos by Wendy Hower.