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Elizabeth Catlett
Man

1975/2003

About the Item

Elizabeth Catlett “Man” 1975 (The Print Club of Cleveland Publication Number 83, 2005) Woodcut and Color Linocut Printed in 2003 at JK Fine Art Editions Co., Union City, New Jersey Signed and Dated By The Artist Lower Right Titled Lower Left Ed. of 250 Image Size: approx 18 x 12 inches Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) is regarded as one of the most important women artists and African American artists of our time. She believed art could affect social change and that she should be an agent for that change: “I have always wanted my art to service black people—to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” As an artist and an activist, Catlett highlighted the dignity and courage of motherhood, poverty, and the working class, returning again and again to the subject she understood best—African American women. The work below, entitled, “Man”, is "carved from a block of wood, chiseled like a relief. Catlett, a sculptor as well as a printmaker, carves figures out of wood, and so is extremely familiar with this material. For ‘Man’ she exploits the grain of the wood, allowing to to describe the texture of the skin and form vertical striations, almost scarring the image. Below this intense, three-dimensional visage parades seven boys, printed repetitively from a single linoleum block in a “rainbow roll” that changes from gold to brown. This row of brightly colored figures with bare feet, flat like a string of paper dolls, raise their arms toward the powerful depiction of the troubled man above.” Biography: Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) Known for abstract sculpture in bronze and marble as well as prints and paintings, particularly depicting the female figure, Elizabeth Catlett is unique for distilling African American, Native American, and Mexican art in her work. She is "considered by many to be the greatest American black sculptor". . .(Rubinstein 320) Catlett was born in Washington D.C. and later became a Mexican citizen, residing in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico. She spent the last 35 years of her life in Mexico. Her father, a math teacher at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, died before she was born, but the family, including her working mother, lived in the relatively commodious home of his family in DC. Catlett received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, where there was much discussion about whether or not black artists should depict their own heritage or embrace European modernism. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1940 from the University of Iowa, where she had gone to study with Grant Wood, Regionalist* painter. His teaching dictum was "paint what you know best," and this advice set her on the path of dealing with her own background. She credits Wood with excellent teaching and deep concern for his students, but she had a problem during that time of taking classes from him because black students were not allowed housing in the University's dormitories. Following graduation in 1940, she became Chair of the Art Department at Dillard University in New Orleans. There she successfully lobbied for life classes with nude models, and gained museum admission to black students at a local museum that to that point, had banned their entrance. That same year, her painting Mother and Child, depicting African-American figures won her much recognition. From 1944 to 1946, she taught at the George Washington Carver School, an alternative community school in Harlem that provided instruction for working men and women of the city. From her experiences with these people, she did a series of paintings, prints, and sculptures with the theme "I Am a Negro Woman." In 1946, she received a Rosenwald Fellowship*, and she and her artist husband, Charles White, traveled to Mexico where she became interested in the Mexican working classes. In 1947, she settled permanently in Mexico where she, divorced from White, married artist Francisco Mora. The couple had three children. From 1958 to 1973, she became the first woman professor of sculpture and later Chair of the department of sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts, Mexico. There she also did much printmaking, which she found an affordable medium for reaching the masses of people and produced images of African-American and Mexican working class women. Source: Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists Added note: Elizabeth Catlett died at the age of 96 on April 2, 2012 at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. (Obituary. Chicago Tribune April 4, 2012)
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