An Artist is Born: Recalling Archibald Motley

An Artist is Born: Recalling Archibald Motley October 7, 2016

Archibald Motley self-portrait
Archibald John Motley, Jr was born on this day in 1891 in New Orleans. He would become one of the major artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance. The smallest of ironies was that he never in fact lived in Harlem. He was also considered a leader of the contemporaneous Chicago Black Renaissance.

Archibald Motley 2He spent most of his life in Chicago and attended the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving a classical artistic education. Motley’s own interests took him toward the modernist-realist style. He won early acclaim and made a living for some years as a portrait artist, although there was some reluctance on the part of white patrons to employ him. He won a Guggenheim and studied for a year in Paris, where he was deeply impressed by the Renaissance masters.

Archibald Motley 3Later in his career after his wife died and facing financial hardship he was forced to accept employment painting shower curtains. While this can be the fate of any artist it seems as an African American artist the wolf was a bit more present at his door than for most.

Archibald Motley 4The Wikipedia article on him notes “Motley’s was often considered “ethnically ambiguous” as a result of his multiracial background. Consequently, he never truly felt that he belonged to any particular group. Thus, this marked the inception of Motley’s ability to see race as a diverse spectacle. His social status made him hyper aware of the socioeconomic and sociocultural boundaries of race.” And as an artist this had a number of consequences. Probably most notable his attention to the variety of skin tones in an era where African Americans were pretty much uniformly portrayed with a very limited palate.

One of the greats.

Archibald Motley should be remembered…

Archibald Motley 5

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