In the early 90’s my brother turned me onto the work of painter Archibald Motley. This past year, a large collection of Motley’s work was a central exhibition celebrating the Chicagoan’s work.
I can say that if there was a guiding light, or hero in my process it has become Motley. Much of his portrait work centered on the vast array of brown and black skin tones. Also emphasized in his art are the city scenes of black life in Chicago’s mostly black Bronzeville neighborhood. I found it fascinating that at this time much of his work is reduced down to being a jazz age painter of the Harlem renaissance.
Although he had little to do with Harlem, did not live in Bronzeville, grew up Catholic in a predominately white neighborhood and against odds married a woman of German descent; marketing history has reduced him down; almost in opposition to the variance he himself strived to paint.
Motely was among the first blacks to be admitted to Art Institute of Chicago, and on the eve of my performance there I was happy to discuss these issues with someone who has dedicated so much of her work to investigating Motley.
Amy M. Mooney is an Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Columbia College, Chicago.
Her publications include a monograph on Chicago painter Archibald J. Motley, Jr., volume IV of the David C. Driskell series on African American Art (2002) as well as contributions to anthologies and catalogs including Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist (2014), Black Is Black Ain’t (2013), and Romare Bearden in the Modernist Tradition (2009). Currently, she is at work on her second book, Portraits of Noteworthy Character, a project that investigates the social function of portraiture.
In dedication to Motley,
I’ve titled this composition after his work Brown Girl After the Bath. The Recording is taken from a rehearsal in preparation for our November 20th show