Black Artist Appreciation

By Ally Yager

As Black History Month comes to a close, it is important to remember that although February serves the purpose of exemplifying black voices and experiences, the themes and messages expressed throughout the month are of equal importance for the entire year. Most people take part in a wide variety of commemoration, so whether it’s by celebrating the achievements of black politicians, music artists and historical figures, or whether it’s supporting black-owned restaurants and businesses, the amount of love and gratitude expressed shines through in a multitude of ways. 

Even though the pride that comes with Black History Month is by no means confined to any particular group of black individuals, I’m finding it to be common that the work of artists in the community–by artists, I mean painters and those who work with visual mediums–isn’t discussed enough at all. We’re all familiar with the whitewashing and overshadowing of black voices in our history classes and modern day media, and black art keys heavily into this. Art is a form of self expression and is a reflection of how one person, or many, are being treated at the time. Without honoring black artists, as well as the time and dedication put into their work, we continue to narrow the scope of what kinds of art we are accustomed to and what perspectives the art we embrace portrays. 

A phenomenal place to start finding black artists is in your community. Going local and being able to explore galleries in your neighborhood and/or city allows you to be able to easily expose yourself to something new while putting your money towards a good cause. As someone whose field of “expertise” is mainly limited to the art forms of music, writing and film, it’s necessary for me to remember that in broadening my knowledge in my own creative fields, I have to support others that I find engaging as well. I urge you all to go out into the city and explore your options, too! There are so many black artists in Denver and beyond who have a true passion for bettering their community and the world around them through their art, and in supporting them, you’ll see the deep significance and meaning behind their work and likely grow attached as well. 

I could ramble on all day about the “whys” and “hows”, but of course I have my share of recommendations! Especially during the pandemic, I’ve been using Instagram and social media in general to find artists I can support, whether they be local or across the world. Kehinde Wiley, based in New York City with his highly naturalistic portraits of African Americans, is one of my favorites. His paintings are colorful and elaborate, mixing pop culture figures and references with the style of *Old Masters. The conjoining of historical styles and the portrayal of modern day black excellence really inspired me, showing how art is a continuum to which inspiration can be derived from at any time. 

Another artist whose work I can’t enough of is Ndidi Emefiele. I find her work particularly refreshing and inspiring, because she is a fellow POC woman, and she is excelling in her craft. Emefiele is 34 years old, of Nigerian descent and based in the United Kingdom. She specializes in mixed-media, and her creativity and individuality is derived from fashion magazines and fragments of other abstract collages. I love how easily she is able to capture the day-to-day activities and simple pleasures of black people going about their lives while also making it look exciting and invigorating. 

If you are an art student at East or have taken an art class at any point in your academic career, you’ve likely heard of Michael Gadlin. I remember doing workshops with him in elementary school and looking at his works in my middle school art elective, and both times I was absolutely blown away by the fact that such a talented and famous contemporary artist lives in my very city. His art is abstract and contemporary, and while he is featured in numerous galleries globally, you can go to RiNo to view his murals! While I love having the option to purchase art or explore museums and galleries, artists who leave their mark on the city by using public spaces as their canvas have a significant impact on me. It truly makes Denver a more beautiful and bright place.

So there you have it! Although there are only a few more days of February left, I implore you to spend even just a little bit of time finding black artists that you enjoy. For every Black History Month here forward, I hope to discover many more creators and content that I’m unfamiliar with. I echo this sentiment as editor of the Culture column so many times, but branching out and learning about cultures different than your own is something that is so crucial in developing a more open minded, inclusive and adventurous worldview. That being said, go out into the world and enjoy some art! 

*refers to any painter who was based in Europe before the 1800s