BOMB’s Oral History Project, run by Editor in Chief Betsy Sussler, documents the life stories of New York City’s African-American artists. Forthcoming Histories include: Melvin Edwards and the late Terry Adkins.
Funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts with The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, with additional funding from the Dedalus Foundation and New York Community Trust, as well as A G Foundation and Toni L. Ross.
BOMB’s Oral History Advisory Panel is Sanford Biggers, Thelma Golden, Kellie Jones, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Stanley Whitney, and Jack Whitten.
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe: I think that is so true. Being a child in the ’60s, I can see how I was kind of dealing with that in terms of image. I’m reading this Walter Dean Myers book, Riot, where he describes what it was like in New York in the 1860s, and the riots that took place at that time. We’re not talking about the South. We’re talking about New York and race riots, and the Irish, and the blacks. It was very interesting, and the point that I’m making is that image is everything. You know the saying, "Don’t judge a book by its cover." When it comes to race, you’re judged immediately. So, even though they say, "Don’t judge a book by its cover," people do judge color. And that’s why the image is so important on many levels. It’s the liability and the asset of image. It’s what Sojourner Truth meant about her photographed image when she wrote, "I sell the shadow to support the substance." The Venus Hottentot image, was how a great part of the white world perceived all blacks. So I think that image, to your question and to your point, could either be something that can make people judge you, or image can be an impression that you leave on someone else. Roy DeCarava once said to me, when I said something to him about my work being very personal, "Good! Because these people who think of their work as being formal aren’t really feeling the work." I never studied with Roy DeCarava, I studied with Garry Winogrand at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Cooper Union. To [Garry], the image was witty. He was wit’s end. He was like an Elliott Erwitt, always having some comical side to the image. For Roy, it was important that he showed his community the way he saw it, and the beauty that he saw in his community. But Garry Winogrand saw that as Roy having a lot of headaches. So image is important as a teaching tool—as a way of creating judgment, creating peace, or educating people—for good or bad. We live in an exceptionally camera-centric society now. You can’t buy a phone without a camera on it. Everybody has a camera.
Adger Cowans: I can talk about a lot of things: I can talk about the beginning, I can talk about now, I can talk about how I feel about my work, how other people feel about it, all of that. It's all in there. When you talk about what I want to be remembered for, my main concern in photography is staying at the forefront of change.
Gerald Jackson describes life as a black painter in the Bowery, poetry versus hip hop, and the jazz scene of the 1980s.
Deborah Willis Tuesday, September 24, and we are here in Brooklyn at Wangechi Mutu’s studio in Bedford-Stuyvestant. Wangechi Mutu has been a special person in my life since 1994, and I really appreciate the opportunity to work with and learn more about Wangechi.
So, the first question: Where were you born?
Wangechi Mutu I have to say that I’ve been a massive admirer of your work, so this is a little nerve-wracking and wonderful. It’s everything that I dreamed would happen eventually, that we’d have this conversation. I was born in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, in Nairobi Hospital, the second born in a family of four, and I was raised in Kenya.
Kara Walker talks with her father, artist Larry Walker, for BOMB's Oral History project.
Larry Walker So do the kids at Columbia call you Prof?
Kara Walker They call me Kara like I’m their friendly, cool aunt. We can both introduce ourselves. I’m Kara Walker, and I’m talking with my dad who is—
KW And we are sitting in his studio/guest room and resource room in Lithonia just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Today’s date is November 29th, 2013.
LW This oral history is for BOMB Magazine.
KW How to begin? I have a few questions and notes for you. I think the gist of this is to get a sense of everything: What it is to be an artist; how you and I got to be doing the things that we’re doing, the similarities and differences. I’m actually kind of interested in the internal stuff in paintings.
Edward Clark spent the early part of his painting career in post-war Paris with other ex-pats like Joan Mitchell and Beauford Delaney. When he moved New York in the 1950s, at the suggestion of Al Held, he helped found the Brata Gallery and worked at the prestigious Sydney Janis Gallery where he met everyone from Duchamp to Rothko—who gave the young painters his old stretchers. This past year The Art Institute of Chicago—his alma mater—awarded him their Legends and Legacy Award. Here, Clark talks to his friend and fellow painter, Jack Whitten, about growing up in Louisiana, coming of age in Chicago, heady days in Paris, and living in New York City when the abstract expressionists ruled.