Courage of a Jazz-Age Artist

'Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist' first West Coast show of bold, defiant paintings
Hot Rhythm
'Hot Rhythm' (1961) by Archibald Motley. Photo: courtesy Chicago History Museum

Some mid-century Americans contributed to the civil rights movement with words and direct action. Count such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson among them.

Others, like Sidney Poitier and Duke Ellington, contributed through statements in their art.

Another artist, Archibald Motley (1891-1981) was a 'Harlem Renaissance' painter who made a career creating visual examinations of the African-American culture and experience.

Now, the West Coast hosts its first-ever career retrospective of Motley's vibrant, defiant art, running now through February 1 at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Motley was a longtime resident of Chicago, and some of his best-known art reflects residence on Chicago's southside by African-Americans who migrated from the south during his lifetime. He also spent time in Paris and then finally in Mexico in the 1950s.

"You kind of see the progression of that as you walk through the show," says Erin Yokomizo, spokeswoman for the museum, which is the third of five stops for an exhibition created at Duke University.

The 43 oil paintings of 'Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist' are also divided into four major and two minor genres: the portraits for which he was first known; then Chicago night and street scenes; his time in Paris; and satiric commentary on race; with less coverage of his work on New Deal art projects and his time in Mexico.

Images of middle-class African-Americans, especially women, are a consistent in this work and prominent in his legacy of breaking the racial stereotypes still prevalent through much of his world.

As noted by museum senior curator Ilene Susan Fort in publicity for the show, "Capturing the bold color and shadowy, syncopated rhythm of nightlife during the Jazz Age, Motley painted crowded urban street views and indoor scenes of nightclubs, bars and other social gatherings that best characterized the newly emerging, modern, and urbane black community."

For more information about 'Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist,' click here.