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Elizabeth Catlett
Faces for Two Worlds

1980

Price Upon Request

About

Elizabeth Catlett (1915 - 2012) forged a singular artistic career as a sculptor and printmaker. During the course of her long life, Catlett was profoundly influenced by a broad array of artistic genres and traditions, including the Harlem Renaissance, European Modernism, African art, American Regionalism, the Chicago Renaissance, Pre-Columbian art, Mexican Muralism and Post-Revolution Populism, and the Black Arts Movement. Rather than simply emulating or reacting to these diverse influences, Catlett synthesized disparate visual idioms to develop a highly-individual style. Catlett’s work was also profoundly shaped by a lifelong engagement with social and political concerns. While avoiding overt didacticism, Catlett developed a remarkable facility in using pared-down forms to convey powerful messages regarding the topics that mattered to her most: freedom, race and ethnicity, feminism and maternalism. Ultimately, Catlett rejected any distinction between the aesthetic and sociopolitical elements of her work. “I believe that art should come from the people and be for the people,” she commented in 1952. “I believe that art is important to the extent that it grows out of and affects the society of its time.” Catlett studied at Howard University, principally under the direction of James Porter. She had won a scholarship competition to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology but was rejected after the Institute learned she was black. After graduation, she served as a public school art teacher in Durham, North Carolina, where she also worked with Thurgood Marshall on a campaign against racial disparities in teacher salaries. Catlett subsequently studied art at the University of Iowa under the mentorship of the painter Grant Wood and became the first student ever to receive an MFA. Her thesis project sculpture, "Mother and Child", was awarded first prize at the 1941 American Negro Exposition in Chicago. After a period in New York when she studied under the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine and taught at the radically progressive George Washington Carver School in Harlem, Catlett moved to Mexico in 1946. She joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular artist collective in Mexico City. She also studied sculpture at the Esmeralda Escuela de Pintura y Escultura with ceramicist Francisco Zuñiga and wood sculptor José L. Ruíz. In 1959, Catlett became head of the department of sculpture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico and subsequently chair of the art department. Elizabeth Catlett’s work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums and institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Iowa, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico. Lowery Stokes Sims writes of Catlett's depiction of women: "Catlett's commitment to the female form has been commented on many times. Invariably it is a celebration of people of the peasant and working class. Her women are characterized by sturdy, voluptuous physiques that invite comparisons with the well-known female presences that predominate the oeuvre of the Mexican sculpture Francisco Zuñiga... In Catlett's oeuvre, the female form is never gratuitously eroticized, but rather analyzed and defined for its manifestation of fecundity and strength" (June Kelly Gallery, Elizabeth Catlett: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1993, p. 5). "Faces for Two Worlds" is a bronze sculpture depicting two faces of African American women looking in opposite directions. The sculpture is stylistically reminiscent of ancient Roman sculptural depictions of Janus, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, looking to both the future and the past. The sculpture recalls Catlett's struggle to succeed as a black artist in the United States and her resulting emigration to Mexico. Due to her involvement in a railroad strike in Mexico City and her association with some Communist artists in the Taller de Gráfica Popular, she was deemed an "undesirable alien" by the United States government and barred from returning to visit her dying mother, leading Catlett to renounce her American citizenship in 1962. Later dividing her time between Cuernavaca, Mexico and New York City, Catlett regained her American citizenship in 2002. Catlett might have felt as if she was torn between two worlds, much like the subject of this sculpture. "Faces for Two Worlds" was exhibited at "Elizabeth Catlett: Wake Up in Glory" at Burning in Water New York. The show, which ran from 28 November 2017 - 3 February 2018, displayed sculptural works Catlett created between 1946 and 2010.

Details

  • Creator
  • Creation Year
    1980
  • Dimensions
    Height: 6.8 in. (17.28 cm)Width: 4.3 in. (10.93 cm)Depth: 3.5 in. (8.89 cm)
  • Medium
  • Period
  • Condition
  • Gallery Location
    New York, NY
  • Reference Number
    1stDibs: LU81932431161

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    Ships From: New York, NY
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