Individual Artists

Walls That Speak: The Murals of John Thomas Biggers by Olive Jensen Theisen

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By Olive Jensen Theisen

John Thomas Biggers (1924–2001) was once some of the most major African American artists of the 20th century. He used to be recognized for his work of art, but additionally for his drawings, work, and lithographs, and was once commemorated by way of a massive touring retrospective exhibition from 1995 to 1997. He created archetypal imagery that spoke certainly to the wealthy and sundry ethnic history of African american citizens, lengthy ahead of the Civil Rights period drew awareness to their African cultural roots. His impression upon different artists was once profound, either for the facility of his paintings and as professor and elder statesman to more youthful generations. Olive Jensen Theisen’s long-time dedication to the artwork of John Biggers resulted from the serendipitous discovery of an early Biggers mural in a college storeroom within the mid-1980s. Theisen instantly well-known the artist, the paintings, and its importance. She then set approximately returning The historical past of Negro schooling in Morris County, Texas to a spot of honor and located herself turning into a pal and recorder of John Biggers’s tales and studies with regards to the production of his different work of art too, together with family members solidarity at Texas Southern collage. Containing greater than 80 colour and black-and-white illustrations, partitions that talk is a richly illustrated replace of an previous variation released in 1996. The artist accomplished new work of art among its booklet and his demise in 2001. as well as the inclusion of the hot work of art, Theisen has additional a bankruptcy on Biggers’s African paintings assortment. the single paintings completely devoted to his work of art, this booklet will entice all these drawn to work of art or African American artwork. “As due to the her friendship with Dr. Biggers, Dr. Theisen truly has special entry to the works which are now held via the Biggers property. Her interviews offer a deeply own perception into the brain of this striking guy and the symbols he hired in his art.”—R. William McCarter, Regents Professor of artwork, college of North Texas

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Extra resources for Walls That Speak: The Murals of John Thomas Biggers

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Sharecroppers Biggers’s mural, Sharecroppers (fig. 9) is a dramatic portrayal of the sharecropper’s world, one of few earthly rewards, except the closeness of family and the joy of religious experience. The mural conveys a sense of bleakness and despair, mixed with a feeling of longing for home that is both touching and intense. Sharecroppers marks the real beginning of Biggers’s determination to use art to transform social conditions, as the Mexican muralists had done. He hoped that through art the Negro people might rise to free themselves from the chains of an oppressive history of racial segregation.

Private collection 34 u transition: 1949–1957 Fig. 8 The artist at work Fig. 9 Process: Line drawing for wall (detail) u 35 walls that speak Biggers then transferred the line drawing to the wall. He first blocked off the drawing in two-and-onehalf-inch squares, equal to one square foot of wall space. Following that, he used charcoal to sketch in the lines, square by square. The artist then placed more permanent lines over the charcoal, in yellow ochre casein, which dries to a hard waterresistant clear film, and began laying in washes and developing details (figs.

Varying surfaces—the burlap-wrapped cotton bales, the thick rope, the muscles of the dockworkers—provided textural contrasts. The feeling of steady heavy activity pulses through the crowded dock scenes. The compositional structure was becoming a familiar hallmark of Biggers’s murals, with its arresting foreground, high horizon line, middle ground filled with dense activity and diagonal lines leading to multiple vanishing points. At this point in his development, Biggers had become skilled as a draftsman of the human figure, and very comfortable with the Riveraesque spatial compositional structure.

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