Celebrating Elizabeth Catlett: The Artist and Her Passion Are True Inspirations

{Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Catlett, who dedicated her art to the struggle of African Americans and women, died on Monday at her home in Mexico. She was 96. And she will be sorely missed. This post was written two years ago on March 3, 2010, just a few days after I acquired my first Catlett. As you will see in the following post, her art moved me. Ms. Catlett moved me. And I’m forever grateful to her for her passion and dedication—each of which inspire me to use my art, my words, for higher purpose. Fly with the angels, Ms. Catlett—thank you for your beautiful art.}

You don’t have to worry about me spending all my little money on designer shoes and fancy purses and overpriced baubles in my (check)book, these things are a waste of hard-earned cash. No judgement on the stylistas; I’m just saying I prefer to spend my money on other things that hold more value to me: stuff for my house. Like, I’ll walk across a bed of white hot diamonds to buy some wickedly eclectic furniture. And I absolutely adore throw pillows, drapes, and stuff for the kitchen.

But there is one thing I love above all of these, and it’s African American art. I mean, I surf the net looking for beautiful, interesting artists and artwork like a dude searches for online porn. Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, H. William Johnson, James Vanderzee, Ann Tanksley, Faith Ringgold you name ’em, I drool over ’em. Like, regularly.

My latest obsession is the renowned artist Elizabeth Catlett. A painter, sculptor and printmaker, Catlett has used her art to make social and political statements, specifically about the fears, struggles, and achievements of African American women. Her work is absolutely stunning addictive. And as of this week, I’m (finally) the proud owner of a fine art print of Catlett’s work (because who am I kidding? I can’t afford an original…) a piece she made while teaching, living, and raising her family in Mexico (such a renaissance woman!). Seriously, I had to have sucked in at least a gallon of air gasping at the sheer beauty of the piece, and really had a problem letting it go long enough to let Nick hang it in a choice spot.

But what really practically brought tears to my eyes was a quote included on the paperwork that accompanied my art work. In it, Catlett said the purpose of her art is to “present black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy.”

That quote means so very much to me because THIS is what I try to do with every word I write, with every speech I give, with every thought I share. There is so much more to us than what we see on the television and splashed across the front pages of the newspapers and what we hear practically every second of practically every day from everyone from pop culture “tastemakers” to the everyday people who thrive on the negative hype. We. Are. So. Much. More. It truly is my prayer that we collectively wake up and act like it one day soon.

One of these days, I think I’ll take a pilgrimage to Mexico to study Catlett’s work there. Until I can make that happen, I’m content to visit my new favorite piece of hard-earned art work Catlett’s “Cabeza” and certainly to gather inspiration to keep presenting “black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy.”

Thank you, Ms. Catlett.

Thank you.

{Note: The first Elizabeth Catlett art  illustrating this post, one of her most famous, is called “Sharecropper,” circa 1952. The second is called “Three Women of America,” circa 1999. Read more about Elizabeth Catlett’s life, life and death in this beautiful obit on the New York Times.}

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  1. You might enjoy the artwork of this young lady from the Caribbean. http://briannamccarthy.blogspot.com/2010/03/strangely-lovely.html

  2. I know I'm late but check out Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson! In addition to the artist's mentioned she is one of my favorites. I saw her Brooklyn Museum show 4 times and was teary eye each time..oh and check out my site too LOL simonerene.com ;).

  3. Wow, I love that second piece!! Thanks for introducing me to a new (to me) artist!

  4. Thank you for introducing me to Ms. Catlett and her beautiful artwork. I have a few pieces of AA art, and I’m always looking to add more.

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