DescriptionJOHN BIGGERS (American, 1924-2001)
Bent Figure with Ghosts / KKK, 1965
Mixed media on board
11-5/8 x 18-3/8 inches (29.5 x 46.7 cm)
Dated verso: 65
Yar and Barbara Chomicky.
African-American artist John Biggers was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, and attended Hampton Institute, later Hampton University, in Virginia. In his first year, he enrolled in a class taught by the influential emigre art educator Viktor Lowenfeld, who became his mentor. After two years in the Navy, he entered Pennsylvania State University, where he earned a master's degree in art education in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954. In 1949, he joined the faculty of Texas State University for Negroes in Houston, now Texas Southern University, where he established and was chairman of the art department. John Biggers's art is grounded in the humanistic spirit and social realist narrative style of the 1930s and 40s. Over the years it grew increasingly emblematic, with figures and architectural forms arranged in intricate patterns that suggested quilts, African textiles, and modernist geometric abstraction. Biggers received a fellowship from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 1957, allowing him to become one of the first African-American artists to visit Africa. This trip to West Africa, which Biggers described as "a positive shock" and as "the most significant of my life's experiences," had a profound impact on his personal and world view and directly influenced his artistic synthesis of African art and culture, the injustices of segregation he experienced, and the strong women of his youth. When John Biggers died, he left behind a body of work that, as Maya Angelou stated, "leads us through his expressions into the discovery of ourselves at our most intimate level."
These three works are part of a larger collection of similar pictures assembled by, Yar Chomicky, a friend and professor in the art department at Pennsylvania State University. Painted before his pivotal trip to Africa, racial injustice is the overriding theme of the collection. The subjects deal directly with hatred, violence, fear, poverty, marginalization, despair, and the emotional anguish of racism, appropriate themes considering they were created in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, during the civil rights movement. The drawings are an opportunity to increase understanding of this important artist and the tumultuous times that shaped his creative process.
Bent Figure with Ghosts is a powerful and emotional work of the highest quality. The tormented figure is bent over, wracked with pain, anguish, and fear. The title refers to the figures aggressively haunting the man, and it is obvious that the ghosts are also images of the Klu Klux Klan. This subject is hard today, so it is difficult to imagine how it would have been received by the general public at the time it was made. Despite this, his mentor Victor Lowenfield, a Holocaust survivor, would have encouraged him to explore such a profoundly difficult, but important, subject. The beauty and formal brilliance of the work makes it even more moving.
Abraision along edges, lower right corner bent with corrisponding paint loss, approximately 1 inch tear to upper right corner with corrisponding losses, and scattered faint surface abrasions.
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