Appreciating art by black artists, a starter guide by Zoe Essex

Nick Cave

Working out of Chicago, Nick Cave is a brilliant dancer, sculptor, and professor. He teaches at SAIC here in Chicago, where he launched a two-year program called Fashion, Body and Garment program ( His best known work is called Soundsuit, an art piece that combined all of his talents into one: a mixture of fashion, performance, and art. Soundsuits are displayed both as sculptures, and as “sound-generating costumes for live performances, photographs, and videos.” ( 


Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold incorporates travel into her work, inspired by her trips to Europe, Nigeria, and Ghana. She creates mostly paintings, tankas, masks, and quilts. Her first quilt was, “in collaboration with her mother, Madame Willi Posey” (, called Echoes of Harlem, which is made up of thirty faces, which, “represent the many life stories present in Harlem” ( At 92 years old, Ringgold lives in New Jersey, and continues to create beautiful quilts for the New Museum in New York City. 


Jean-Michel Basquiat

Possibly one of the most famous black visual artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work remains relevant in today’s world. He created many influential art pieces during the Neo-expressionism movement in the 1980s, such as Skull, The Nile, and Boxer. Neo-expressionism, “erupted in the 1980s in reaction to minimalism and conceptual art” (, which fit well with Basquiat’s style of art. Many of his pieces are inspired by the human body; he took this inspiration from a copy of Grey’s Anatomy gifted to him by his mother while in the hospital from a car accident ( Basquiat sadly passed away in 1988, but his work lives on today as some of the most important of its kind. 


Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is a portrait painter who uses his talents to, “[blur] the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation” ( Wiley attended an art program in Russia as a child and, “earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and in 2001 earned a MFA from Yale University” ( Wiley’s most famous works are his breathtaking, naturalistic portraits of African Americans, often including vibrant and colorful backgrounds. Arguably his most famous is that of Barack Obama, created in 2018.


Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage – often known for her work during the Harlem Renaissance – created several influential sculptures that helped to “[elevate] images of black culture into mainstream America” ( Savage grew up as one of fourteen children in her family, with a father who, “strongly opposed his daughter’s early interest in art” ( Augusta Savage moved to New York and gained popularity through her busts, most notably of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Gamin, a bust of Ellis Ford, her nephew, which is now housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.