The Black Romantic

Jasmine Sanders at Artforum:

Their oeuvre comprises two categories, into which the bulk of Black Romantic art can also be slotted: “Home and Family Life” and “Religious and Spiritual Paintings.” The former is all nuclear bliss and filial piety—Mommy and Daddy dole out kisses and baths and lead the children in bedtime prayers. Little black girls come draped in the oversize uniforms of secretaries and teachers, the boys outfitted as preachers, lawyers, and athletes, all smiling a bit too wide and glowing the same glazed-honey-bun brown. The aforementioned Daniel belongs to the latter grouping, alongside other familiar biblical tableaux, the figures all recast as black and rendered with expressive detail. Christ, pressed hair agleam beneath the halo, shepherds his flock through thick Edenic brush. A personal favorite is Visitation, 1998, in which a white-robed girl gazes heavenward, the sky behind her a froth of crepuscular blues, greens, and plums. Her exposed neck imparts a devilish stroke of carnality welcome amid the otherwise pious scene. Likewise her glossed lips, which, along with her wispy bangs, situate her firmly in modernity, a Madonna-cum–round-the-way girl. Before her are lilies of all varieties and in all stages of bloom, their sharp, distinct oil lines contrasting with the gauzy, airbrushed sky. Smaller, yellow buds blossom throughout, a tonal invocation of the orisha Oshun, lover of honey, sensuality, and mayhem. The infusion of paganism and possibly Yoruba symbolism unyokes the portrait from its stodgy biblical origins and releases it into more rousing territory. Are we witnessing a visitation or a conjuring? Is hers the white robe of the Pentecost or the Priestess?

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