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John Biggers (American, 1924-2001)

Paintings

Also known as:  Biggers, John Thomas

Biography:
John T. Biggers, born in North Carolina in 1924, is an African-American painter, printmaker and sculptor best-known for his social realistic narratives and humanistic depictions of African culture and heritage, often displayed in the form of public murals.

Biggers originally enrolled at Virginia’s Hampton Institute to pursue a career in plumbing but switched gears when he signed up for a drawing class taught by prominent émigré artist, Viktor Lowenfeld, the following year. Lowenfeld, alongside Biggers’s fellow peers Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, provided an outlet for Biggers to absorb and exchange creative feedback and had a great impact on his development and vision as an artist. In fact, Lowenfeld had so much faith in the young artist’s talents that he selected Biggers’s mural, Dying Soldier, to be included in the “Young Negro Art” exhibition of Hampton students at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943.

Following his studies at Hampton, Biggers served in the Navy for two years then earned his master’s degree in art education, as well as a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1948 and 1954. As a student, Biggers produced a series of murals for the university.

Biggers later joined the faculty of Texas State University for Negros in Houston, today known as Texas Southern University, where he spearheaded the art department. He maintained his career as a practicing artist throughout his tenure at the university, participating in various exhibitions throughout the country, earning multiple awards and recognitions for his merit, and spending periods of time traveling Africa. His longest stay lasted six months, when he received a Unesco grant to study Western African cultural traditions in the late 1950s.

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