The artist Amy Sherald shows a variety of black leisure activities through monumental and nuanced portraits




April 20, 2021

Grace Ebert

“A Summer Afternoon Dream” (2020), oil on canvas, 106 x 101 x 2.5 inches. All images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth, shared with permission

Amy Sherald plumbs the multitude of black leisure in The great American fact, a series of arresting portraits currently on display at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. From a woman resting on a bike to two surfers preparing for the water, the oil paintings observe moments of calm and pleasure on a monumental scale, sometimes stretching almost two meters in diameter.

Although she surrounds her subjects with vivid spots of color and portrays them in light-colored clothes, Sherald (before) continues to render the skin of its subjects in its characteristic gray level that it is described in recent years as a way of making the characters “universally read where they could become part of the mainstream art-historical narrative”. This new series also features elements that represent American culture, including a white picket fence, a Barbie t-shirt, and a retro convertible.

The title of the collection is based on the work of Anna Julia Cooper, an educator who wrote in 1892 A southern voice from a southern black woman. In the classic black feminist text, Cooper described blacks as “the great American fact”; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their minds and on which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence. “This understanding structures Sherald’s work and provides a guide for looking at the“ public blackness, ”especially as the Georgia-born artist depicts characters with a rich personal life full of ease, relaxation and joy. If much of black life has historically focused on dealing with injustices and social problems, Sherald’s inward turn offers a nuanced view of her subjects.

The five paintings shown here are on view through June 6, and you can find a larger collection of Sherald’s elegantly subversive work her side and Instagram.

“An Ocean Away” (2020), oil on canvas, 130 x 108 x 2.5 in

“Hope is the thing with feathers (The Little Bird)” (2020), oil on canvas, 54 x 43 x 2.5 inches

“As American as Apple Pie” (2020), oil on canvas, 123 x 101 x 2.5 inches

Detail from “Hope Is That Thing With Feathers (The Little Bird)” (2020), oil on canvas, 54 x 43 x 2.5 inches

Detail from “A Midsummer Afternoon Dream” (2020), oil on canvas, 106 x 101 x 2.5 inches

“A bucket full of treasures (Dad gave me sunshine to put in my pockets …)” (2020), oil on canvas, 54 x 43 x 2.5 inches


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