One of the original ten members of the groundbreaking Chicago-based artist collective AFRICOBRA founded in 1968, Sherman Beck paints vibrant portrayals of Black family, ancestry, and community that celebrate the wonder and mysticism of everyday life. In a retrospective at Kavi Gupta, paintings made during the past five decades explore themes of cultural identity, multidimensional time and space, and the origins of life.
In Ancestors, a series of untitled works from the 1990s, Beck juxtaposes traditional African masks, labeled as if in a museum display, alongside contemporary Black faces. He challenges the viewer’s perception of reality and the imagination, combining realistic characteristics with vividly patterned backgrounds or portraying visages in bold geometric abstraction. The subjects of his portraits, which include historical figures such as Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, or Frederick Douglass, the national abolitionist leader and social reformer, always gaze directly at the viewer.
Through symbolic motifs such as winding paths, all-seeing eyes, and contrasts between light and dark, Beck explores continuity across time periods and the human desire to understand how and why we exist. He questions the nature of revealing and concealing, oscillating between representational portraits, bold abstraction, and otherworldly interiors and landscapes that open up into enigmatic cosmic vistas.
Beck’s retrospective continues at Kavi Gupta in Chicago through July 30.
The Boat, 2012
Sunrise, Sunset, 2012/17