Hale A Woodruff Essay Research Paper At

Hale A. Woodruff Essay, Research Paper

At first African-American artist were known as slave artisans, there skills included iron work, cabinet makers, quiltmakers and silversmiths among others. The majority of these artists were using their talents to create useful items for their masters. In order to become a visual artist required talent, but it was a different for African-American artist back then. It was the nineteenth century, and race was a big issue, thus determining who could be trained in the arts. There were no schools or places where African-American could freely exhibit their work, these artist were excluded from all academies, schools and associations that were available for white artists. After the Civil War, many African-American artists began to be recognized. From 1865 to the beginning of the 1920 s African-American artists began creating paintings, sculptors, drawings that were acceptable for museums.

The challenge that many African American artists where facing after World War II was balancing their assimilation into the white cultural scene while maintaining their cultural identity and bringing about black issues such as civil rights. Hale Woodruff integrated African-design motifs into his colorful, large-scale canvases to portray his African ethnicity. The Renaissance Movement, as initiated by blacks in the 1920 s, is also referred to as the New Negro Movement or the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem was realized by a mix of American movers and shakers: social reformers, political activists, cultural elite s, progressives in public policy and education, and, of course, artists. Black Americans found it important to create in a manner true to their ethnic beliefs during the 1920 s. The Harlem Renaissance created a flowering of black talent of literary and artistic creativity that has left incredible cultural legacy. Among early 20th-century artists are important figures from the Harlem Renaissance era, including Aaron Douglas, James VanDerZee, William H. Johnson, Meta Warrick Fuller, and Hale Woodruff.

Hale A. Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois, on August 26, 1900. He studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana and went on to Harvard University. He was the recipient of a Harmon Foundation Award that permitted him to study in Paris from 1927-1931 at the Academie de le Grande Chaumiere. The economic depression forced Woodruff to return to the United States and he accepted a teaching position at Atlanta University. Thus in 1931 Woodruff became the first African-American artist with extensive and experience abroad to teach art in a black university. Woodruff s ideas about art changed quickly after he observed the plight of the African-Americans who struggled to exist in the South s crippled, one-crop economy and who had great difficulty obtaining relief allocations or jobs. This time of extreme hardship made Woodruff question the value of much that he learned during his stay in Europe. He concluded that cubism and modern art had little meaning for most Americans, and he began to encourage students to paint the social environment.

He started to paint around Georgia s rural areas and the style the represents his early works were Social Realist, like the Amistad Murals. He chose as subject matter the depiction of everyday life events and the relations of the people of that area. Woodruff spent the summer of 1938 studying mural painting with Diego Rivera in Mexico. In 1947, Woodruff left Atlanta University to accept a teaching position in New York University and he moved to Harlem. He then shifts his work style to that of Abstract Expressionism, Woodruff felt that abstraction [was] just another kind of reality. His main goal with this style was not to just verify what the viewer already knew, but to extend their vision and way of seeing. To Woodruff abstraction was an important pathway to artistic freedom and individual self discovery (Powell 102) .He continued to paint in an abstract manner for the rest of his life. Woodruff s European works were in the cubist mode. The Card Players was inspired by Pablo Picasso s cubist style and Cezanne s Two Card Players (1890-1892). The 16 paintings by Hale A. Woodruff in a Shared Heritage reflect many of the artistic trends popular in the 20th century, including cubism, regionalism, social realism and abstract expressionism. Woodruff was part of a group that formed in the 1960 s in New York called Spiral. Woodruff was promoted to professor of education at New York University in 1957, and in 1967, the university honored him with a retrospective exhibition of his paintings, he then retired in 1968. In the spring of 1979, the Studio Museum in Harlem held a retrospective of Woodruff s art, covering 50 years of his work. He died in 1980 at the age of 80.

The Amistad

The Amistad mutiny trial murals at Talladega College in Alabama (1938-1939) are Woodruff s most famous work. These murals were commissioned in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the mutiny by African slaves abroad the Amistad. Each of three panels represents a visual complex composition representing the historical events surrounding the mutiny, trial and return of slaves from the ship Amistad. The Amistad incident began off the coast of Cuba in 1839 with a shipboard rebellion by 54 Africans who had been illegally enslaved. Wandering up the Atlantic coast, the ship was seized by a United States revenue cutter off the coast of Long Island and towed into New London harbor, were the Africans were initially imprisoned. They were tried for murder in Connecticut, but eventually won their freedom after John Quincy Adams argued their case in the United States Supreme Court. The ship that was transporting them into slavery and freedom. Another mural by Woodruff, but this is also done with the collaboration of Charles Alston in 1949 is The Negro in California History this two-panel oil on canvas mainly focuses on historical events and people about which little had been documented. This mural portrays the founding settlers of Los Angeles pueblo, more than half of whom were of African descent. Black participation in the Pony Express, the building of Boulder Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge is also acknowledged. Among the significant individuals spotlighted are the philanthropist and entrepreneur Biddy Mason. While still a slave, she was forced to walk West from Mississippi, then won her freedom in a Los Angeles court. It depicts the settlement and development of the state from 1850 to 1949. These murals have since become the centerpieces of one of the most important private collections of African American art. Both The Amistad and The Negro in California murals demonstrate Woodruff s interest in African culture, especially that of slaves which was of importance during this period of time.

The Card Players

During Woodruffs trip to Paris he became fascinated with the Work of Pablo Picasso and Paul Cezanne. Woodruff created the first version of The Card Players in 1928. Influenced by cubism, Woodruff incorporated the movement s interest in African art into his own paintings. The masklike faces of the card players demonstrate a fascination with African masks. The use of African aesthetics in Woodruff s paintings is of much deeper feeling to him because of his African-American background. Woodruff s painting Poor Man s Cotton demonstrates the flowing movements of African Americans while out in the field raking cotton out in the sun. Although it was a hard task, Woodruff s demonstrates a sense of joy and fascination, thus showing their vitality.

Abstract Expressionism

Was a broad movement in American painting that begun in the late 1940s and became a dominant trend in Western painting during the 1950s. Abstract Expressionism is a radical style of art with which artists outdistance their models, adding full, violent color, and bold distortion. Artists who felt uneasy expressing themselves with conventional styles of art that could not correctly convey their visions created it. The paintings are usually rather large; they are an expression of thought through the use of gestured or “action” painting; they are commonly painted with strange objects; they are usually filled with vibrant, shocking colors and many other things not normally associated with other “classical” forms of art – these artists are trying to paint raw emotion, not pretty pictures. The painters who came to be known as “Abstract Expressionists” shared a similar outlook rather than a style – an outlook of revolt and a belief in the freedom of expression. The main thing these artists had in common was that they valued, above all, individuality and almost instinctive improvisation. Woodruff was fascinated with the idea of abstract painting, mainly because he explored a whole new vision in his paintings. One of his most famous abstract paintings is a series called Celestial Gate that contains variations on the theme of a doorway incorporating traditional African symbols. Another painting by Woodruff shoeing this same stylistic matter is Abstract (1980) which demonstrates Woodruff s ability to compose energetic, rhythmic canvases in the Abstract Expressionist style and color (Bearden 180). Not loosing his rich African culture he used Ashanti gold weights and other African elements in his abstract paintings.


As I mentioned before when Woodruff moved to Atlanta he painted in the surrounding rural areas around Georgia. During these escapades he painted some landscape paintings. These landscapes have a complete American style to it, but were mainly inspired by Cezanne and Van Gogh during his trip to Paris, where he studied. Georgia Landscape is composed of large trees, with limbs and leafy branches with a very curvilinear style. The twill-like brushstrokes echo the techniques of Cezzane while the swirling masses of color recall the emotionalism of Van Gogh s late landscape (Perry 184).

In conclusion Hale A. Woodruff was one of the best African American painters of his time. He was fortunate to be a well-educated and respected painter. His accomplishments are of great merit due to his integrity and faithfulness to the African-American culture. Woodruff was always true to his roots and always expressed them in his paintings. He depicted many styles of painting, like social realism, cubism, and his uttermost favorite abstract expressionism. Woodruff s early paintings are vivid and realistic of portrays of black experiences. His later work is more abstract.


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