Eye Opener: Five Artists To Know

Karen Jenkins-Johnson ’82 has devoted her career to elevating emerging artists of color and highlighting the work of underappreciated masters. Here are five artists she believes deserve more attention.

Aubrey Williams, “Now and Coming Time I,” 1988, oil on canvas, 48 x 70.5 inches; Ming Smith, “Single Pool Player, Pittsburgh, PA,” (August Wilson Series), 1992, gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches; Enrico Riley, “Untitled: The Inheritance,” 2019, oil and watercolor on canvas, 58 x 53 inches


1. Ming Smith

“She plays with light and shadow in her photographs to make everyday moments ethereal and transcendent. She’s the first black female photographer collected by the Museum of Modern Art, and her work is also in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian, and the Brooklyn Museum.”

2. Enrico Riley

“His paintings and drawings are vibrant and full of color; they investigate themes of historical and contemporary violence, martyrdom, grief, resistance, and hope. He’s on the faculty at Dartmouth College, where he was just named to the George Frederick Jewett Professorship in Art, and he has a Rome Prize in Visual Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His work is in the collections of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Nasher Sculpture Center, among others.”

3. Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell

“They’re founding members of AfriCOBRA—the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, which defined the visual aesthetic of the Black Arts movement. They work both together and separately. Jae’s revolution-themed clothing exalts black families and is one of a kind. Wadsworth’s portraits are pattern-intensive and combine vibrant colors with Black Power slogans, to depict the intensity of political activism. You can see their work in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among others. They’re also included in the 58th Venice Biennale.”

4. Aubrey Williams

“His paintings range from astronomy and ecology to pre-Columbian iconography and music. They’re visually striking, bright, abstract paintings. He also was a co-founder of the Caribbean Artists movement, a group of London-based intellectuals and artists of Caribbean ancestry, which urged artists to look to their heritage for abstract or non-narrative inspiration.”

5. Thornton Dial

“He’s a self-taught artist who combines mass-produced objects with organic materials to produce works that speak allegorically about African American history and themes of displacement, struggle, and the will to overcome. For example, he incorporates ripped and stained clothing, wire, cans, carpet, and steel to create a metaphor for the shared history, genealogies, and ‘roots’ to Africa.”


By Danelle Morton
Photos courtesy of Karen Jenkins-Johnson ’82
Published Oct. 24, 2019