Robert Gwathmey was once asked if he was a "social artist."
He replied, "I'm a social being and I don't see how you can
be an artist and be separate....Artists have eyes...You go home.
You see things that are almost forgotten. It's always shocking."
For Gwathmey, home was Virginia, and he devoted his career as a
painter to showing the identity, aspirations, and contributions
of African Americans and the failure of American society to recognize
Gwathmey's paintings, such as Nobody Around Here Calls Me
Citizen, tell stories about individual African Americans living
in the South in the 1940s, but they also use symbols
to convey a larger message. Gwathmey believed that by simplifying
a composition to its essentials and using symbolic abstraction,
the message of his work could be most strongly communicated. He
said, "I believe that in painting the use of limited imagery
is the best method of presentation of your content. I believe that
if the symbols are strong enough and simple enough and inventive
enough, they can transcend the literary in painting."
In the 1940s, Gwathmey pointed to the invention of photography
as a liberating influence in art because cameras can make realistic
images so the painter no longer has to. He also believed Pablo Picasso
was an important influence to modern art because, through his use
of abstraction and experimentation, he gave artists a new way of
looking at the world.
an image that stands for an idea or object.
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