An essential African American artist of his era, Archibald Motley Jr. created paintings of black Chicago that aligned him with the revisionist aims of the New Negro Renaissance. Yet Motley's approach to constructing a New Negroa dignified figure both accomplished and worthy of respectreflected the challenges faced by African American artists working on the project of racial reinvention and uplift. Phoebe Wolfskill demonstrates how Motley's art embodied the tenuous nature of the Black Renaissance and the wide range of ideas that structured it. Focusing on key works in Motley's oeuvre, Wolfskill reveals the artist's complexity and the variety of influences that informed his work. Motley's paintings suggest that the racist, problematic image of the Old Negro was not a relic of the past but an influence that pervaded the Black Renaissance. Exploring Motley in relation to works by notable black and non-black contemporaries, Wolfskill reinterprets Motley's oeuvre as part of a broad effort to define American cultural identity through race, class, gender, religion, and regional affiliation.
About the Author
Phoebe Wolfskill is an assistant professor of African American and African diaspora studies and adjunct professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the co-editor of Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art .