Menu Search
About Us
The Art Story Homepage Artists Archibald J. Motley, Jr.

Archibald J. Motley, Jr.

American Painter

Archibald J. Motley, Jr. Photo
Movement: Harlem Renaissance

Born: October, 7, 1891 - New Orleans, Louisiana

Died: January 16, 1981 - Chicago, Illinois

"I feel that my work is peculiarly American; a sincere personal expression of this age and I hope a contribution to society."

Archibald Motley Signature

Summary of Archibald J. Motley, Jr.

Archibald Motley captured the complexities of black, urban America in his colorful street scenes and portraits. Painting during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, Motley infused his genre scenes with the rhythms of jazz and the boisterousness of city life, and his portraits sensitively reveal his sitters' inner lives. His use of color to portray various skin tones as well as night scenes was masterful.

His depictions of modern black life, his compression of space, and his sensitivity to his subjects made him an influential artist, not just among the many students he taught, but for other working artists, including Jacob Lawrence, and for more contemporary artists like Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall.

Key Ideas

Motley more often cited European Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Hals as his influences, and his painting of light and skin tone reflect his careful study of these artists. His paintings, though, are thoroughly modern with their sense of space and rhythm.
At the time when writers and other artists were portraying African American life in new, positive ways, Motley depicted the complexities and subtleties of racial identity, giving his subjects a voice they had not previously had in art before. Motley's paintings grapple with, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, the issues of racial injustice and stereotypes that plague America.
While Motley strove to paint the realities of black life, some of his depictions veer toward caricature and seem to accept the crude stereotypes of African Americans. While some critics remain vexed and ambivalent about this aspect of his work, Motley's playfulness and even sometimes surrealistic tendencies create complexities that elude easy readings.
Archibald J. Motley, Jr. Photo

Archibald J. Motley, Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1891 to upper-middle class African American parents; his father was a porter for the Pullman railway cars and his mother was a teacher. His paternal grandmother had been a slave, but now the family enjoyed a high standard of living due to their social class and their light-colored skin (the family background included French and Creole). When Motley was two the family moved to Englewood, a well-to-do and mostly white Chicago suburb.

Most Important Art

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterSave on PinterestSend In Facebook MessengerSend In WhatsApp
Support Us