Archibald J. Motley Jr
Blues 1929
Oil on canvas, 80 x 100.3 cm
Collection of Archie Motley and Valerie Gerrard Browne
© Archie Motley

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Archibald J. Motley Jr
(1891-1981)

Archibald J. Motley Jr was one of the first of several artists to concentrate on African American life in his paintings. Even though he never worked or lived in Harlem, his work provided a foundations for much of the work that became identified with the Harlem Renaissance. Motley is best-known for his portraits and genre scenes of Chicago's Black Belt.

"In his painting Blues, Archibald J. Motley Jr. placed this notion of an enticing, performance based black agency into immediate visual action. Set in Parisian 'Black and Tan' club (where a clientele comprised mostly of blacks from South Africa, the Caribbean and the US would fraternize, dance, and listen to the latest black American music), Blues gives form, colour, and meaning to the Harlem Renaissance idea of a part aural, part performative act of black enchantment. Motley's dense composition of cabaret patrons, wine bottles, musicians, instruments, and seemingly disembodied arms and legs all add up to a pictorial gumbo of black creativity: a painted space where musical layering and sexual partnering parallel a fractured, cubistic approach to art and representation. But unlike the emotional and cultural distance to artistic subject matter found in the circa 1920s cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque, Motley's Blues is bold in its racial and cultural locus for modernism, and assertive in its aesthetic privileging of black performers."

Paul Gilroy,'Modern Tones',
Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance

 

 
 
 
 
 
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