Friday, June 15, 2018

Arty Farty Friday ~ "The Father of African-American Art"

 Portrait by Betsy Graves Reyneau.
Aaron Douglas
(26 May 1899 - 2 February 1979) - "The Father of African-American Art." I didn't choose him because of the title bestowed by his peers and those influenced by his example, but rather because I love his work and style. What better reason? His style is described in an exhibition catalogue as "combining angular cubist rhythms, seductive art deco style, and traditional African and African American imagery to develop his own unique visual vocabulary”.

Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, a baker's son. Topeka had a thriving black community. They followed progressive intellectual and social doctrines and had strong leadership which provided Douglas with many role models at an early age. Douglas was encouraged by his mother to continue his creative interest in art. His most serious decision in becoming an artist came from his exposure to the African-American printer, Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Douglas educated himself despite many obstacles. He joined the exodus to the north after high school, in order to earn money to pursue a college degree. In 1917 he attended the University of Nebraska. He graduated from Nebraska with a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1922. Douglas taught art at Lincoln High School in Topeka for two years, then was accepted as illustrator for Dr. Alain Locke's new book, The New Negro, published in 1925.

Douglas and his wife, Alta, later moved to Paris, France, where he expanded his knowledge of painting and sculpture. In Paris Douglas met his idol Henry Ossawa Tanner. On his return to the U.S. in 1928, Douglas became the first president of the Harlem Artists Guild. In 1929 he traveled to Chicago to create a mural for the Shermon Hotel's College Inn Ballroom. At the end of 1930 Douglas created another mural for Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. For his efforts, Douglas became known as the "Dean" among his fellow students. From 1939 to 1966 Douglas was a professor of Art at Fisk University. He later became department head before he retired in 1966.

Aaron Douglas is probably best known for his Aspects of Negro Life, a series of four murals completed under the sponsorship of the Works Progress Adminstration in 1934. The murals trace the history of African Americans from Africa through their migration to America's northern cities. In Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers, Douglas presents jazz iconically in the figure of the saxophone player. The musician is an emblem of the intersections of African heritage, African American culture, and national identity.

A 12 noon chart has to suffice as no time of birth is known for Mr. Douglas.
Born 26 May 1899 in Topeka, Kansas.

Sun, Pluto and and Neptune in Gemini opposed by Moon (more than likely), Saturn and Uranus from Sagittarius. Mercury and Venus, planets of communication and the arts respectively were in Taurus, home sign for Venus and arguably one the most appropriate placements of Venus for an artist of any kind.

The Taurus planets are opposed by Jupiter from Scorpio. So, all in all the chart is dominated by oppositions indicating a "see-saw" dynamic: the need to constantly react until, with experience, it becomes clear that compromise between two opposing forces of the personality is the key to peace of mind. I wouldn't presume to guess what opposing forces were involved in Mr. Douglas's case, but being born long before racial integration in the US must have presented him with a feeling of "being in two minds" about many matters, in spite of the fact that he was fortunate in growing up within the support of a thriving black community. His work, while celebrating his roots, records the wrongs and hardships his fellow African Americans have faced.





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