Art History | African American Folk Art

When exploring the resplendent tapestry that represents the history of American art, the influence of the African American folk art movement cannot be overstated. Started by self-taught and recently emancipated enslaved persons in the Southern regions of the United States, this movement spanned from the dismantling of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. These resilient artists found inventive ways to express their experiences and circumvent the systemic efforts to exclude them from traditional academic training. Prior to emancipation, Black artists would have been excluded from any artistic recognition, and post-emancipation, would have been excluded from the majority of galleries, museums, and other venues, so they had to make their own spaces. 

In honor of Black History Month, we are going to explore this influential and inspiring movement. At Kicky, we are champions of artists from all walks of life, and when you join our platform, you join a community and movement of like-minded creatives. So, without further ado, let’s step into the vibrant world of the African American folk art movement.

What Is African American Folk Art?

African American folk art is a genre of art that was spawned after the emancipation of African Americans in the United States. These artists embodied the triumph of spirit over adversity.

These artists were influenced by a history of being excluded from the most academic institutions due to systemic racism and poverty. As a result, this movement would become rooted in activism and become a vehicle for empowerment and the expression of their experience and identity. Many of these artists, such as Bill Traylor and Clementine Hunter, were self-taught–and often prolific. 

“Black Matriarch” c. 1970 Clementine Hunter oil on canvas 60.96 x 41.91 cm
“Black Matriarch” c. 1970 Clementine Hunter oil on canvas 60.96 x 41.91 cm

The works that these artists created ranged from pottery to quilts to sculptures to paintings, and they represented a visual expression of their oral storytelling traditions and featured an originality that was unprecedented as they experimented with form. They didn’t just think outside the box or color outside the lines. They created new canvases to paint on, such as the backs of advertisements. 

Artists of the African American folk art movement created works of visual autobiography that reflected lived experiences through a hyper-personal lens. Because they were generally denied access to “traditional” art materials, like paints and canvases, these artists took an innovative approach in their use of recycled or found materials.

At Kicky, it’s our honor to pay homage to some of these incredible self-taught artists. Bill Traylor who used discarded cardboard or paper as his canvas found around his neighborhood. And Clementine Hunter (seen on the left), who lived and worked at Melrose plantation which became a haven for artists and writers and gave her access to supplies and inspiration for her works. Or Mose Tolliver (seen below) who began painting in his late 40s due to a permanent leg injury using house paint and anything he could use as a canvas.  These artists and more are perfect examples of the ingenuity during this art era.  

“Self Portrait with Red Hat” c. 1994 by Mose Tolliver house paint on wood 27″ x 14″-min.jpeg
“Self Portrait with Red Hat” c. 1994 by Mose Tolliver house paint on wood 27″ x 14″

From the shadows of slavery to the victories of the Civil Rights Period, every brush stroke and hue of color tells a tale of perseverance, and the harsh realities of these experiences had a huge influence on the work that emerged. Common themes included intense religious inspiration and the ability to mine hope and beauty from shared and singular experiences in family and community to transcend their stark realities. Both of these artists and many more have left an indelible mark on American art and, as such, are an important part of art history in the US.

Do You Want to Make Art History? Start Your Own Scene and Artistic Movement by Joining Kicky Today!

We are proud to pay tribute to African American folk art as a truly unique and captivating period of American art history. When you join Kicky, you don’t just join a platform. You join a community of kindred spirits that become a vital force and movement in and of itself. On Kicky, creativity is endless, and so are your opportunities to build your dream art career. 

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