William H. Johnson – Painter

(left to right) 1. Street Musicians |  2. Athlete | 3. Girl In A Turban – Betty | 4. William H. Johnson | 5. Cafe | 6. Three Friends

William H. Johnson was a prolific painter whose career spanned decades. He moved to New York City at the age of 17 to study at the National Academy of Design. Afterwards he moved to France where he studied modernism. When he returned to the United States, Williams immersed himself in African American folk culture thus leading to a new exploration in his work.

Bright, bold, and eclectic – his work depicted the daily life of black folks in New York City. He was dedicated to the concept of “primitiveness” and tradition; and believed that a people’s connection to nature affected that people’s art, allowing cultural and spiritual elements to seep through. (Could Basquiat have been inspired by Johnson’s philosophy?)

Johnson died in 1970 after a long and debilitating fight with mental illness. He left behind over one thousand paintings that are now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection.

“My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually, all that which in time has been saved up in my family of primitiveness and tradition, and which is now concentrated in me.” – William H. Johnson


More {dope} Ndebele Art


I love the rich, bold patterns of the Ndebele tribe. The Ndebele artists, primarily women, rely on the environment for art supplies; water and soil for pigment and chicken feathers for paint brushes. Their patterns cover the exterior of their homes communicating rituals and rites of passages. Ndebele by Margaret Courtney-Clarke is a wonderful exploration of Ndebele art which includes intricate beadwork. It’s a wonderful book to have in your library.


Esther Mahlangu – Painter

(left to right)1. Esther Mahlangu, painting; 2. The artist custom painted a 1991 BMW 525i; 3 – 6. Patterns created by the artist over the years

Esther Mahlangu is a 80-years old, South African painter. She belongs to the Ndebele people, a tribe known for their colorful and symmetrical patterns. A master of the craft, Mahlangu has traveled the world and painted everything from walls to canvases to cars. BMW has a long running series, Art Car, where artists are invited to use a BMW as a canvas. In 1991, Mahlangu became the first woman and the 12th artist to complete an Art Car.

Though she has garnered international recognition, the artist has chosen to reside in her village where she’s opened a school for young artists. I call that the epitome of {fly}.

Noni Olabisi – Painter, Muralist

1. Troubled Island; 2. Resurrection; 3. To Protect and Serve; 4. Freedom Won’t Wait

I’m in love with these murals by Noni Olabisi, a painter and muralist based out of Los Angeles. Her work pops off the wall, beautifully depicting the experiences of black people while evoking a sense of pride and power. It has to be her color choice – Olabisi’s use of monochromatic color and red is so…dope. My favorite mural by her is “Troubled Island” and it includes a vévé (Vodou line art). Ya’ll know I dig that!


Titus Kaphar – Painter, Sculptor, Filmmaker

(l to r) 1. Excavation (The Invisible Man); 2. Time Travel; 3. Boys in Winter; 4. Sacrifice; 5. Self Evident

Titus Kaphar is pushing art into a new space by literally cutting, bending, and painting over…space. It’s a refreshing approach to a medium that can, at times, seem repetitive or empty – you know, shock value for shock value’s sake. But Kaphar’s work has depth, energy, life. He takes classical works and recreates them by adding the black image; that dark figure, historically present but rarely acknowledged. I’m really digging Kaphar’s work and I can’t wait to see what he does next. See more of his dopeness at http://tituskaphar.com/.

Ekua Holmes – Painter, Collage

(l to r) – 1. MLK Jr. Day Google Doodle; 2. “A Matter of Time”; 3. “All Weather Friends”; 4. “Girl with Literature”

When I saw today’s Google Doodle, appropriately honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I had to know more about its creator. Thank goodness for Google because within seconds I found the artist! Ekua Holmes, a painter and collage artist, created the lovely image of MLK Jr. arm in arm with other activists. It as if Aaron Douglass and Jacob Lawrence’s works had a love child! It’s absolutely gorgeous and her other works are just as beautiful. See them here,  http://www.ekuaholmes.com/.


Kadir Nelson – Illustrator, Author

(from l to r) 1. Illustration from Nelson Mandala; 2.  Forbidden Fruit; 3. Heavens Awaits; 4. Shirley Chisholm ; 5. Illustration from A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt De La Pena; 6. Painting from The Africa Series; 7.  Illustration from Heart and Soul; 8. Kadir Nelson

Kadir Nelson can push paint around a canvas like nobody else, consequently his career has been remarkable. He has illustrated over 25 books, a few of which he also authored. Nelson designed postal stamps for the United Stated Postal Services and created memorable album covers (i.e. Drake’s “Nothing Was the Same” and Michael Jackson’s “Michael”). I’m in awe of how he depicts light hitting skin…it creates a certain mood in each and every piece. Definitely check out more of this man’s incredible work at http://www.kadirnelson.com/.

Local Hero: Samella Lewis

KCET and Union Bank created a segment called “Local Heroes” for Black History Month in 2012. Dr. Samella Lewis was one of their heroes.

I love seeing videos like this about artists!

Dr. Samella Lewis – Painter, Printmaker, Art Historian

(l to r) 1. Dr. Samella Lewis; 2. I See You, linocut print, 2005; 3. Field, linocut print, 1968; 4. Interior, hand colored lithograph, 1997; 5. Field Hand (Girl), acrylic on paper, 1949; 6. book cover, Samella Lewis and the African American Experience, 2012; 7. Double Vision, pen and ink on paper, 1960

Happy New Year! May this new cycle provide you with everything you need and deserve! 

I couldn’t think of a more fitting artist to feature today than Dr. Samella Lewis. Lewis is one of my major inspirations simply because she has dedicated her life to creating and preserving black art. She has completed five films and seven books about the African American artistic experience. Furthermore, she founded the International Review of African American Art  in 1975 and the Museum of African American Arts in 1976. The publication and museum are still active.

Lewis’ own body of art work is substantial. Working primarily as a printmaker and painter, her work is poignant, colorful and at times solemn. Her figures all possess an introspective gaze that pulls the viewer deeper into the piece. And those lines!!! Lewis’ lines sweep across the canvas, building up texture. The style of her work has varied throughout the years but the way she captures the human figure is unique. 

She is a master teacher and her accomplishments are nothing short of legendary. There is a fantastic book about her called, Samella Lewis and the African American Experience. I recommend this book to anyone interested in more information about Lewis and her lust-worthy art collection. 

With Dr. Lewis’s work in mind, let’s make this new year creative, fun, and above all {DOPE}! Happy New Year!