Urgent Museum Notice

Dominating with Depth: Faith Ringgold

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight

As an artist, Faith Ringgold has always worked to tell her story.

Faith Ringgold stands and speaks, gesturing with her hands, in front of her portrait paintings. She is a dark-skinned adult woman wearing colorful clothing and a black sweater, including a yellow head wrap and chunky jewelry—rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.
Photo credit: Laura Hoffman, NMWA

She created bold, provocative paintings during the 1960s, directly responding to the Civil Rights and feminist movements. Her explorations of race and gender, which are on view in American People, Black Light, were often unsettling to viewers because of the way they confronted issues of their time.

Semi-cubist painting of a black man, white woman, and white man linking arms, superimposed with the American flag. The black man, partially obscured by the stars on the flag, clutches his bleeding chest with one hand and holds a knife in the other. The red stripes of the flag drip as if bleeding.
Faith Ringgold, American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967; Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches, Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York; © Faith Ringgold 1967 Photo courtesy ACA Galleries, New York

She was quoted about American People, Black Light in the Grio, saying that she was “very pleased that this work is getting another chance to be seen . . . and that the American people are getting another chance to take a look at themselves,” Ringgold said in an interview. “Most of that work I still own because people just didn’t want to look at it. They didn’t want to see it.”
The Washington Post described NMWA’s exhibition as “provoking visitors with paintings of enormous size, arresting intimacy and unsettling intensity. [Her paintings] are marked by large, emoting eyes, her signature U-shaped line descending from the eyebrows around the nose, and ‘high-keyed’ blues, reds, and greens, colors that dominate not with brightness, but with depth. It is a style she calls super-realism—one that demands that viewers engage.”

Divided into a grid of nine squares, this modernist painting depicts a stylized face with the eyes, nose, and mouth each consigned to separate squares. Solid-colored shapes in grays, muted blues, dark orange, black, and white are arranged to create the features of the face.
Faith Ringgold, Black Light Series #1: Big Black, 1967; Oil on canvas, 30 ¼ x 42 ¼ inches, Courtesy of Faith Ringgold and ACA Galleries, New York © Faith Ringgold 1967, Photo: Jim Frank

Throughout her career, Ringgold has worked to tell the stories of “American People.” She was quoted in the Washingtonian talking about her experiences in the 1960s: “It was a vibrant period—there was a lot of writing, talking about expressing the experience of African-American people,” Ringgold says. “I felt, as I still feel, that artists have the job of documenting their times.”
Have you had a chance to see NMWA’s Faith Ringgold exhibition? It closes this Sunday, November 10, so it’s not too late to learn more and come visit!

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