31 Inspirational Artists for Black History Month: Aaron Douglas / by Simone Brewster

The Father of black American art. 

Aaron Douglas artist on Simone Brewster blog

How could I start writing about a series of black artists and not start off with Aaron Douglas? That would be like writing about soul music and not starting with James Brown or writing about gangster films and not beginning with The Godfather. 
Looking at the work alone you can see that although Douglas is clearly of his time he still speaks to the sensibilities of today. Simplified use of form, washes of colour and clear storytelling are all key instruments in Douglas's playbook. 

Douglas decided he wanted to be an artist and so studied a BA (1922) in art. Soon after its completion he was the winner of a scholarship to study with German illustrator Winold Reiss. During this period Reiss would encourage Douglas to engage with his African ancestry for artistic inspiration. These words of advice must have  hit home as Douglas would go on to produce illustrations for the NAACP magazine The Crisis and Opportunity.

Douglas's style saw a fusion of his interests in African art and modernism. These would be expressed in conjunction with art deco and Egyptian style elements into his work. He would become a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

The 1930's were a key time for Douglas with him producing some of his best work. It would begin in 1930, and being hired to paint a mural for Fisk University. 
In 1931 he would travel to Paris, where he studied with Charles Despiau and Othon Friesz. On his return to New York in 1933, Douglas had his first solo show.
It was also during this time that he would undertake one of his most recognised collection of paintings; a group of murals entitled "Aspects of Negro Life" that occupied four panels with each highlighting a different part of the African-American life and experience. Each painting blended Douglas's influences, which spanned music and jazz to the African, geometric art and abstract arts.

Aaron Douglas artist on Simone Brewster blog