Jae Jarrell and Wadsworth Jarrell “Master Works: Old and New”

Skoto Gallery

poster for Jae Jarrell and Wadsworth Jarrell “Master Works: Old and New”
[Image: Wadsworth Jarrell "Revolutionary" (1972) silk screen, 33x27 in.]

This event has ended.

Skoto Gallery presents Jae and Wadsworth: Master Works/Old And New - a selection of significant works by the influential artists best known for their involvement with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This will be the first show at the gallery for both artists. The reception is on Thursday, February 21, 6-8pm. The artists will be present.

Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell are founding members and leading figures of the legendary Chicago artists’ group AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) - the Black artists collective that defined the visual aesthetic of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Other founding members were Jeff Donaldson, Gerard Williams and Barbara Jones-Hogu. Founded in 1968 the group strived to create works that were positive and committed to social responsibility as well as promote pride in Black culture and heritage. Among the group’s main objective was the need to understand and express the visual principles that defined black culture while drawing on their concerns and experiences as black Americans. In the words of Wadsworth Jarrell: Most of the art during the sixties were labeled as protest art, especially art of African-Americans. We escaped that label because we focused on our heritage instead of protesting injustice meted out by mainstream America. We weren’t just a group of enthusiastic artists making art. A lot of art made during that period had little or no aesthetic qualities, and by artists with limited skills. We were all skillful artists, and our aim was to make an impression as a Revolutionary group by creating African-American aesthetic.

This exhibition consists of a selection of pertinent works from 1972-2019 in diverse media including drawing, painting, print, sculpture/fashion design that speak to the layered experiences of both artists. Their works are readily recognizable and dense with visual complexities that reflect an awareness of function and experiment, harmony and dissonance as well the complications of modern urban life. Throughout their careers, Wadsworth, a painter, and Jae, a clothing, furniture, and fabric designer, have celebrated the struggles, strengths, and beauty of African Americans in their art with a resolutely modern aesthetic that is original as well as formally and materially complex. The visual impact is direct and forceful in keeping with their lasting conviction that art can affect social change.

Wadsworth Jarrell (b. 1929, Albany, Georgia) and Jae Jarrell (b. 1935, Cleveland, Ohio) are included in the seminal exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-1983, organized by the Tate Modern, London in 2017 with curators Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley. It traveled to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas and the Brooklyn Museum in 2018-2019, and scheduled to open at the Broad Museum. Los Angeles, March 23-September 1, 2019. Other exhibitions include AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People, Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Fl. in 2018; We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, Brooklyn Museum and ICA Boston, 2017; Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, 2017; FESTAC, Lagos, Nigeria, 1977; AfrCOBRA II, Howard University, Washington DC, 1972 and AfriCOBRA I, Studio Museum in Harlem, 1970. Collections include the Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, The High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Washington DC, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio among others. The artists live and work in Cleveland, Ohio.

Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell: Familial Bonds

In 1968 Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell, Jeff Donaldson, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams founded AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). They started gathering regularly in Wadsworth’s studio in Chicago with a specific objective in mind: to create an approach to art that was distinctly and intrinsically tied to their own background as African-Americans. In a country that remained largely anti-Black, AfriCOBRA’s aesthetic and philosophical principles were not solely a counterproposal to the dominant, Eurocentric and marginalizing standards of Western culture. Above all, their art should tell the world about the power, persistence, and beauty of African heritage in its own right. In the words of Wadsworth, “African people are the forerunners, innovators, creators” and “the hip.”

As the only couple among the five founding members, Wadsworth and Jae in both of their work specifically reflected their belief in the importance of the family as the basis for broader, communal change. By doing so, they put a traditional concept at the center and beginning of two highly unconventional and remarkable careers. Black Family (1968), Wadsworth’s first work as an AfriCOBRA member, depicts a quintessential American nuclear family and includes portraits of his wife Jae and their first child Wadsworth Jr. Jae’s suede dress, Brothers Surrounding Sis (1970), on the other hand, illustrates their understanding of familial bonds as an expansive idea that starts with the nuclear family, but extends to include the members of AfriCOBRA and reaches far beyond into the streets and cities of America.

Jae’s successful career as an entrepreneur and her concurrent move to take on fashion as an artistic medium and vehicle for change have been defying racist and sexist norms for nearly five decades. Her fashion designs incorporate a broad range of graphic elements such as brick walls, graffiti, colorful bandoliers, references to jazz, as well as different materials such as suede, textiles, and found objects. Her most recent work features combinations of handmade garments and decorative elements from furniture and vintage appliances embedded within larger forms, extending her work beyond the practice of fashion design into the realm of sculpture. It was also a family-related encounter that led to the most significant stylistic and technical shift within Wadsworth’s oeuvre: in the mid-1980s, inspired by a drawing by one of his daughters, he started to incorporate zigzag lines created with the use of a trowel and round, geometric body shapes into his drawings, paintings, and sculptures.

The common thread in Jae and Wadsworth’s work is the connection between the small and the grand, the deeply personal and larger societal questions. In the same way that their understanding of the family radiates outward from husband and wife to include their children, fellow artists, and ultimately culture at large, their engagement with music, fashion, design, and history is only a tool for a much larger quest: for their art to serve as a methodical tool for restoration and rejuvenation within Black communities.

Reto Thüring, 2019
Chair of Contemporary Art
Museum of Fine Art
Boston, MA



from February 21, 2019 to April 06, 2019

Opening Reception on 2019-02-21 from 18:00 to 20:00

  • Facebook


    All content on this site is © their respective owner(s).
    New York Art Beat (2008) - About - Contact - Privacy - Terms of Use