Harlem Roots, the intimate exhibition of select pieces from the Harlem Art Collection, showcases artists whose independent contributions serve as a lasting tribute to Harlem, elevating what was once coined “community art” into an art form with profound impacts in American art.
With works that were completed during the Harlem Renaissance through the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement eras, these artists connected to the community with their art and are now synonymous with Harlem. While depicting and documenting their surroundings, the artists provide viewers with insight and an artistic response to the many socio-political issues that swelled in the environment around them.
With a notable lack of equal representation in broader New York City exhibitions, some of these artists involved themselves in art collectives such as the Harlem Artist Guild (1935-1941) and the Black Arts Movement-inspired Weusi Artist Collective, established in 1965. Others sought artistic equality and empowerment and spearheaded working artist initiatives such as the Kamoinge Workshop, Spiral Gallery, and Cinque Gallery, to name a few.
All artists featured in this exhibition are prominently affixed to the culture of Harlem and contributed to the neighborhood’s transformation into a national treasure of ideas and creativity.
Top Image: David Cottes, The Rad, 1970, oil on canvas
David Cottes, 1930 -
The Rad, 1970, oil on canvas
Born to Puerto Rican immigrants, Cottes was an active member of the Puerto Rican Art Movement in East Harlem and worked at the Center for Puerto Rican Cultural Relations. The Rad depicts abstracted androgynous figures in earth tones grouped together with fists upraised. Cottes was known to paint scenes of figures in crowded subways. The Rad’s upraised fists act as representations of people holding onto subway rails while simultaneously referencing the raised fist as a symbol of power and solidarity.
Leita Mitchell, 1949 -
Street Jivin', n.d., collage on paperboard
Leita Mitchell spent her life in Harlem. Inspired by the collage work of Romare Bearden, Mitchell is known for her vibrant, vivid, and bold collages that imaginatively depict the people who lived, worked, played, struggled and survived in the city. Along with children’s book cover designs, her illustrations have been published in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Black Enterprise and Redbook.
Ernest Crichlow, 1914-2005
Waiters, 1969-70, acrylic on masonite
Working primarily with figurative paintings depicting the strength of the people who lived in his neighborhood, Crichlow frequently included his analysis on civil rights and social justice struggles. He illustrated children's books for many years and taught at the Art Students League of New York. In 1969, along with artists Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis, Crichlow founded the Cinque Gallery to exhibit new and established African American artists as well as provide community educational programs.
Harlan Jackson, 1918-1993
African Series Phoenix, n.d., mixed media
During American painting’s transition away from Surrealism and Cubism, Jackson was a major pioneer in the movement of experimental abstraction. His explorations in painting were influenced by studying with artist Clyfford Still, African cubist imagery inspired by a trip to Haiti, the ideas of Alain Locke and the New Negro Movement, and the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts where he experimented with ideas of perspective and plasticity.