Terron Cooper Sorrells USA, b. 1994


Terron Cooper Sorrells is an African American painter and printmaker whose work deploys imagery, motifs, and references from Western art history to broaden the African American narrative in contemporary art.

Raised in a military family, Sorrells recall frequently moving and visiting an assortment of American art museums as a child. He noticed a lack of African American representation not only in the artists whose work was collected, but also in the content in the works on view. The stories being told either entirely excluded African American history, or told limited versions of those stories from the majoritarian perspective.

“I think there’s misrepresentation in terms of the American art wings in museums,” Sorrells says. “The African American presence deserves to be there. I take it upon myself to paint intricate scenes that tell our history.”

By including mythological and religious references and other narrative devices that will be instantly recognizable to American art audiences, Sorrells’s larger than life figurative scenes illuminate the cultural and historical layers that have intentionally been left out, or erased.

One of Sorrells’s paintings depicts a young, barefoot, African American boy crouched in a pond, as curious fish and turtles gather around his hand. In the distance is a farm. The image is reminiscent of the myth of Narcissus, but unlike that character, who gazes only at the beauty of his own image in the water’s reflection, this child see past the surface, looking in wonder and curiosity at the world beyond himself.

“It’s about that individual more than the myth,” Says Sorrells. “The innocence of childhood before the hardships of life get thrown at you. The time is ambiguous, but I can imagine this boy enjoying the pond might soon realize that he’s a slave. This is before that realization sets in.”

Another of Sorrells’s paintings shows an African American man working outside, pushing a boulder up onto a ledge. An assortment of creatures surrounds him—some real, others mythological. Simultaneously haunted and helped by these beasts, the man seems half Sisyphus, engaged in a performance of hopeless labor, and half Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders while elevating it to new heights.