Zurbaran by Jeannine Baticle
By Jeannine Baticle
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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.