Wadsworth Jarrell USA, b. 1929

Overview

Wadsworth Jarrell is a painter and sculptor born in Albany, Georgia. Raised on a working farm, he was inspired by the art in the Saturday Evening Post. While serving in the Army he became the company artist for his unit. After the army, Jarrell enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned his BA in 1958. After college, Jarrell established his painting practice on Chicago’s south side.

 

In 1968, Jarrell came to prominence as one of the five co-founders of AFRICOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), a Black artist collective formed on the South Side of Chicago, which helped define the visual language of the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s. Yet, for decades prior, Jarrell had already been experimenting with his aesthetic voice, transitioning gradually from the illustrative figuration of paintings like Come Saturday (1959), to the Orphic Cubist-inspired, abstract dynamism of Cockfight (1965). Jarrell was already a mature painter when he contributed to the development of the AFRICOBRA aesthetic. The group’s embrace of “cool-ade” colors, text, and positive images of the Black community may be seen as an enlargement of Jarrell’s voice, but as we can see in paintings

like Sign of the Times (1966) and Shore Market (1968), to a large degree these ideas were already emerging out of his own experiments. Essential to his work is Jarrell’s belief that the creation of an art object is inherently personal. Though informed by history and governed by material realities, his process always begins and ends with his own experiences. Many of the seminal works he painted at the height of the AFRICOBRA years—like Black Family (1968) and Boss Couple (1970)—directly reference Jarrell’s personal life. Even seemingly less personal works, such as I Am Better Than Those Motherfuckers and They Know It (1969) and Homage to a Giant (1970), examine the broader culture through Jarrell’s distinctly individuated point of view.

 

Recent exhibitions of Jarrell's work include AFRICOBRA: Nation Time, 2019 Venice Biennale, Official Collateral Event, Venice, IT; Come Saturday Punch, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL; AFRICOBRA: Messages to the People, MOCA North Miami, FL, USA; AFRICOBRA 50, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, USA; Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London, England; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Fayetteville, AR; USA, Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco MOMA, CA, USA, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA; and Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae JarrellThe Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, USA. Jarrell’s work is included in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the National Museum of Africa American History and Culture, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others.

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