These 29 contemporary African American artists are absolutely phenomenal. Their work is outstanding, so I cannot wait to share a little bit about each of them with you.
This post is meant to offer an entry point for you to learn more about contemporary African American artists. I am a white woman, so I am not someone who you should treat as an expert on this topic. There are many people of color who are more educated on this subject than me.
You can follow these extremely qualified and talented Black curators in the art industry to learn from the experts: Chaédra LaBouvier, Rashida Bumbray, Ryan N. Dennis, and Ashley James (to name a few – there are many more!). Click here to read more about Black curators that are making an impact.
This post is meant to share and promote contemporary African American artists’ work. It is not a substitute for nuanced education on their work. Their work should be supported in tangible ways beyond this post! Links to the artists’ respective Instagrams and websites are included unless I was not able to find them.
These artists are not listed in any particular order. This list of contemporary African American artists spans generations and mediums. Even so, it is far from being fully inclusive of the many talented African American artists there are. I am always excited to learn more about artists that are new to me! Hopefully this list introduces someone new to you.
Without further ado, let’s get into this list of outstanding contemporary African American artists!
1. Bisa Butler
With her work, Bisa Butler brings the unacknowledged but deeply important lives of her African American ancestors to the forefront. Creating her art through making stunning quilts, she uses African fabrics to create a robust historical narrative.
She noted on one of her recent Instagram captions that there is zero paint used on her quilts, which highlights how skilled she is as an artist. It says a lot that she has to remind people of that, because it is so unique to see art like hers solely made from fabric.
Her work will be on display in Boston at the Museum of Fine Art for their “Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories” special exhibit that premieres on October 6th this fall. I can’t wait to go to the exhibit!
2. Howardena Pindell
Howardena Pindell has made a huge impact on the art field as an artist and as a teacher. Her unique style comes from her “lengthy, metaphorical process of destruction/reconstruction,” according to her website.
The process that she employs to create her art is profoundly intertwined with whichever subject she is focusing on – her work has spanned various topics including homelessness, sexism, and war.
Click here to learn more about Howardena Pindell by visiting her website. (I could not find her on Instagram)
3. Michael C. Thorpe
Michael C. Thorpe is a textile artist who uses quilts as a means to express himself. He has a unique style, which may come from his unique position as a Black male quilter.
He feels that art is all about being authentic, which I learned by watching this video interview he has on his website! It’s really fun to watch – he talks about his process of making art and describes how he went from being a basketball star to a full time artist.
Click here to learn more about Michael C. Thorpe by visiting his website. (I could not find him on Instagram)
4. Charly Palmer
Charly Palmer says that he is “an extremist when it comes to the love of Black people.” How amazing is that?
As an artist who has a deep love for his own people, Palmer’s work explores the intricacies of Blackness and the nuance of Black identities. His work sparks questions and conversations, as all great art does.
5. Henry Taylor
Henry Taylor’s paintings are mostly of people, and he is an expressive painter who describes himself as a sensitive person who responds to things. So in some ways, his works of art are a cultural response.
I watched this video about Henry Taylor where he talked a little bit about himself and his process as an artist.
6. Mickalene Thomas
Mickalene Thomas is a very multifaceted artist, and she creates using many different mediums. She “wants to celebrate Black femininity and sexuality,” and is inspired by her own mother in doing that.
She also has an awesome video on her website where she talks about her work and her mission as an artist. Her video is really unique and is a work of art on its own, in my opinion.
7. Kara Walker
Kara Walker’s work is so thought provoking. She has started so many important cultural conversations with her work.
Her famous silhouettes are part of her work’s “investigation of race, gender, sexuality, and violence,” according to the biography on her website. Her work is widely recognized and has become incredibly important in modern discourse about art and culture.
8. Carrie Mae Weems
Dissecting intersectionality is at the crux of Carrie Mae Weems’s work. She uses a variety of mediums, and primarily is known for her photography, video, and installation. She also creates performance art.
In an interview, she said that she is “determined to find new models to live by,” which is very evident in her work. She intentionally centers Black women in her works of art and pays close attention to the experiences of Black women in the US, including her own.
(I was not able to find her website, but you can learn more about her here as well).
9. Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley is a beloved artist who became famous through his portrait of Barack Obama that now resides in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
Urban life is a constant source of inspiration for Wiley, as he casts models for his portraits from everyday people in New York City. He has an iconic style of using pattern in the backgrounds of his paintings of people.
10. Tanekeya Word
Tanekeya Word is an artist and is the founder of Black Women In Print. You can read more about Black Women in Print by clicking here.
She describes herself as a womanist, which definitely comes through in her work as an artist, her work as a leader in community organizing, and in her scholarship. She is currently working on her first book “dedicated to the comb, sisterhood, and self care” according to her website. I can’t wait to see her future work.
11. Delita Martin
Delita Martin was the first member of Black Women In Print, and is a friend of Tanekeya Word’s. She is a very talented artist! Her art tells many different stories of Black women throughout history and in modern life that are often untold or misconstrued.
On her website it states that her “goal is to tell the story of women that have often been marginalized, offering a different perspective of the lives of Black women.”
She has a shop on her website that you can check out here. I just ordered her book Conjure.
Click here to learn more about Delita Martin by visiting her website. (I could not find her on Instagram)
12. Alexandria Smith
I am honored to share Alexandria Smith’s work with you because she was my professor at Wellesley College 4 years ago! She is a great professor and person.
Alexandria Smith describes her work as “both trickster and conjurer, mirroring the ways in which we view ourselves and others in the present while simultaneously envisioning a future” according to her website. She is a printmaker, painter, collage artist, and more.
13. Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall is a stunning painter who chronicles Black life in his works of art, ranging from Black love to Black history to Black family life.
Represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery, his bio there says that his work “interrogates Western art history… challenging and recontextualizing the canon to include themes and depictions that have been historically omitted.”
There are quite a few articles about his work and the impact that he has had. Here’s a New York Times article written about him.
Click here to learn more about Kerry James Marshall by visiting this website. (This link offers more information, but I could not find his website)
14. Ekua Holmes
Ekua Holmes is a collage artist and according to her website her artwork explores “family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, the power of hope, faith, and self-determination.” So much of her work manages to grapple with honest historical context while prioritizing Black joy.
You can shop her work on her website here. I have such an affinity for her work, especially since she is from Roxbury, MA. I love supporting artists from Massachusetts!
15. Jerrell Gibbs
Jerrell Gibbs draws inspiration from “family memories… affirming the multilayered experience of the African-American diaspora, Gibbs plunges the viewer into an immersive experience, the realm of his childhood,” according to his website.
His paintings so clearly tell stories, and feel deeply personal. It comes as no surprise that they are inspired by his own familial memories and family photos.
16. Arcmanoro Niles
Arcmanoro Niles has bright colored paintings that are captivating to look at. According to this bio by Lehmann Maupin, “a signature aspect of Niles’ work is his use of vibrant oranges, pinks, purples, blues, and greens, which he layers, color after color, to create a saturated glow.”
This glow is so unique to his work! It has such a raw intensity to it.
17. Kenturah Davis
Kenturah Davis has a very unique style. This may stem from where she draws inspiration from: text. Her bio on her website states that “she explores the fundamental role that language has in shaping how we understand ourselves and the world around us.”
Her work is so intriguing and full of wonder. She also includes text in some of her drawings, which is very detailed and eye catching.
18. Gerald Lovell
Texture is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Gerald Lovell. His paintings are so rich in texture.
According to this article on blackartinamerica.com, Lovell sees himself as an observer and an outsider in some ways. It’s interesting to learn more about how he became a painter and an artist in his own unique way.
Click here to learn more about Gerald Lovell by visiting this website. (This link offers more information, but I could not find his website)
19. Tajh Rust
Tajh Rust is a very talented painter. I learned more about him from the Matthew Brown Gallery website where there is a bio about him. It says that his first solo exhibition was called Where We Meet and it opened in 2020, so he is a relatively new artist!
He has some really stunning works of art. Definitely go check out his Instagram, where he shares more of his work.
20. Alex Gardner
Alex Gardner has a totally unique style of painting. The colors that he uses for his subjects in his paintings are part of what makes his work so unique.
New Image Art Gallery has a bio about him that says “Gardner’s figures demonstrate a bionic sensibility complete with their own artificial intelligence conveying the emotive backlash to a digital revolution where human interaction has been refined to a synthetic online experience made to fit within a screen.”
Admittedly, that went a little over my head, but the more I think about it, the more I start to get it as I look at his work. Super cool.
Click here to learn more about Alex Gardner by visiting this website. (This link offers more information, but I could not find his website)
21. William H. Johnson
I’m not sure if the term “contemporary” is going to make art historians cringe when applying it to the artist William H. Johnson, but I wanted to include a few more historical figures on this list, because African American artists have been important and have been creating art for a very long time.
The Smithsonian has a bio about him that says that he was born in the Deep South but ended up finding his way around the globe throughout his life. He was an observer of culture and that played a large role in his work as an artist. You can read more about him here.
22. Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence is another artist who is really important to know, even though he is no longer alive today. I was able to learn more about him through the Phillips Collection website.
The Smithsonian also has a bio about Jacob Lawrence and it says that “during the 1940s Lawrence was the most celebrated African American painter in America.”
Click here to learn more about Jacob Lawrence. (This link offers more information, but I could not find his website)
23. Greg Breda
Like most of the artists on this list, Greg Breda is a living artist. He is based out of Los Angeles, California, and is a painter intrigued by the human spirit.
I loved learning more about him through his website. His style of painting is really unique and full of contrast and texture, as you can see in the pin below.
24. Alannah Renee Tiller
Alannah Renee Tiler has an Instagram, @alilscribble, and I love it! It is one of my absolute favorite accounts to follow.
Her work is playful and loose and colorful. With her significant following on Instagram, she helps make art more accessible to people on a day to day basis.
I saw that she recently posted about painting a mural as well, which is so exciting.
25. Jammie Holmes
Based in Dallas, Jammie Holmes is an artist who focuses his work on telling the stories of African Americans living in the Deep South. His bio on his website states that his “work is characterized by the moments he captures where family, ritual, and tradition are celebrated.”
Look at how beautiful his work is! I love the combination of pattern and figures in this composition.
26. Amy Sherald
Famous from her portrait of Michelle Obama, Amy Sherald is such a talented artist. Her work is absolutely stunning, so it comes as no surprise that she was chosen for Michelle Obama’s portrait.
Amy Sherald situates “Black heritage centrally in the story of American art,” according to this Hauser & Wirth bio about her, and that is one of the most evident elements in her work. It is really exciting to see all that she is doing for American visual culture through her work.
27. Philemona Williamson
Philemona Williamson is very talented and she, like so many of the artists on this list, deserves to be much more well known and recognized for her work.
Her paintings explore transitions in life and especially focus on childhood memories, according to her bio on her website. There are so many intricate details woven into the stories of her art.
28. Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold is an artist who is comfortable with many different mediums, and her quilts have garnered significant recognition.
“Echoes of Harlem,” which is pictured in the pin below, was a quilt she made with her mother. She is also a published author and has made many contributions to American culture over the years through her art and her work as an author.
29. Jean-Michel Basquiat
During his life, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a tremendous leader in the art world. He has inspired generations of artists after him – in fact, Michael Thorpe (who is also on this list) cited him as inspiration!
His work as a graffiti artist is truly iconic, in part because he started as a street artist, and his work was later shown in museums and galleries. This juxtaposition worked hand in hand with his art, because he was known for posing opposites together. He is a really important person who shaped American history and culture.
This post was a list of a variety of talented contemporary African American artists. I hope that you learned about an artist who you are curious about from this post! I encourage you to go learn more about them.
If you want to learn more about contemporary African American artists, I recommend following some Black curators and other curators of color who are experts in this field. To name a few again: Chaédra LaBouvier, Rashida Bumbray, Ryan N. Dennis, and Ashley James (again: there are many more!). Click here to read more about Black curators that are making an impact.
Make sure you follow your favorite artists from this round up! And you can get more art and design inspiration like this by following Garland Collections on Pinterest and Instagram. Scroll to the bottom of this page to join the Garland Collections email list for special updates.
Thank you for being here, and see you next time!