cultur.d: the paintings of amy sherald..

Amy Sherald was born in Columbus, Ga. in 1973. She attended Clark- Atlanta University where she earned a Bachelor’s of the Arts in painting in 1997. While attending Clark-Atlanta she became an apprentice to Dr. Arturo Lindsay who was her painting instructor at Spelman College. She was a participant of the Spelman College International Artist-in-Residence program in Portobelo, Panama in 1997. Sherald also assisted in the installing and curating of shows in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary Art Panama) and the 1999 South American Biennale in Lima, Peru. This was the impetus for her to explore her own voice in the art world. In past years her work has been autobiographical but has changed in response to her move to Baltimore, MD and has taken on a social context with a allegorical twist. Sherald attended the Maryland Institute College of Art where she earned her M.F.A. in painting in 2004. After graduating she secured a prestigious private study residency with well-known Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum whom she lived and studied with in Larvik, Norway. She also attained an artist residency assistantship at the Tong Xion Art Center in Beijing, China in 2008.
Sherald was chosen as Jurors Pick of the New American Paintings Edition 88. Her work was mostly recently acquired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Smithsonian Museum of African American Art in Washington, D.C. In addition, she was also a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painting and Sculpture Grant. Sherald is currently living and working out of Baltimore, Maryland.

Artist Statement

My work began as an exploration to exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing “color” but still portraying racialised bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture. These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale, illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history. As my ideas became more legible the use of fantasy evolved into scenes of spectacle (e.g. circuses), to make direct reference to blackness and racialisation. I stage specific scenes of social ascent, and racial descent that chart the psychology and performance of identity with a particular attention to notions of social exclusion and assimilation. All of these things configure a practiced position or role played within a specific space or context. These kinds of performances blend and bleed the borders of how blackness is defined within the phenomenon of race as it relates to a specific experience of blackness in America, which has been performed in front of an audience that pretends not to exist. I am using historicism and race, not to be provocative, but to find some meaning within the ideas of self-actualization and the evolution of identity as a reaction to external directives.

The scope of my experiences involving race materialized from my upbringing in the south. While attending private schools and being one of two or three black children, I was raised to be conscious of how I acted, spoke and dressed. This performing aspect of my identity was cultivated from the beginning of my schooling. I learned this was the key to my social acceptance and assimilation. Drawing from these experiences, I am engaging from a personal perspective with the desire to extrapolate meaning on how identity is both constructed and performed within political, social, economic and cultural spheres.

Each painting starts with a chance encounter of an individual that embodies certain resonating characteristics. I am continually searching for models and creating costumes for each character. Although the figure is painted in gray I photograph the models in color, and the skin color is then translated into gray on canvas by using black and naples yellow. I place the figure within an atmospheric background that represents a liminal space as opposed to one that would provide a context of place or time. Creating the impetus for the viewer to truly come face to face with the painted figure as if they are on stage underneath a spotlight. The liminality of the background also represents the amorphous personal space of my own existence within the context of black identity and my search for ways to clarify and ground it.

Identity interests me not only within the backdrop of my experiences in the south, but also from a global perspective. This had lead to my examination of social implications of increased interconnectedness among the world’s populations. Currently, I am working on ideas for multi-figure portraiture of similar or contradicting characters and stories between subjects.


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