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African-American artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment. Artistic and cultural movements such as the New Negro, Black Arts, Black Renaissance, hip-hop, and Afrofuturism, have been led by people of African descent and set the standard for popular trends around the world. In 2024, we examine the varied history and life of African-American arts and artisans.

Sam Gilliam, Wissahickon, 1975, color screenprint on wove paper, Gift of Funds from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, 2023.22.17

Color is the driving force behind the abstract art of both Sam Gilliam and Stanley Whitney

Gilliam made a name for himself in the 1960s with innovative paintings that he draped directly from walls. In 1975 he became the first artist in residence at Philadelphia’s Brandywine Workshop. While he was there experimenting with printmaking, Gilliam created this screenprint named for the brook in one of the city’s historic parks, Wissahickon

Just four years later, Whitney made this untitled screenprint also during a Brandywine residency. While both prints share a vibrant palette, they show how differently the two artists approached abstraction. Gilliam’s strokes of colors are fluid and free formed. Whitney, on the other hand, hints at a grid-like structure in his repeated horizontal and vertical marks. Whitney’s experiments at Brandywine were fundamental to the evolution of his now-signature style of color-blocked paintings.

We are thankful for the beautiful works of art these artists have created and their different approaches. Let's celebrate our artists during Black History Month!

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