Archive for February 25, 2010

African Americans in Art…. Ellis Wilson

Ellis Wilson was  a great painter who never got much acclaim when he was alive. In fact I didn’t know of his work until I recently saw  a painting of his on the Cosby’s and recognized it. He was already dead when his work appeared on the Cosby show. In the show the painting was said to have been painted by a relative of Claire Huxtable but they still used his name  in the show.  The show centered around this work and going to the art auction. I loved the theme of this show, modern contemporary art.

One thing you can learn from this painting titled the “Haitian Funeral Procession” was to make your characters lean back to add some character. Use this idea also for buildings or sails. Any thing you want to add some life to. Don’t tip it forward so that it looks as if its going to fall over, but rather lean it backwards. This works well for the masts of sails also.

The painting featuring the 4 african american women titled “Four Sisters” is another favorite of mine. The design is great, repititive shape but all the sisters are of different sizes. This makes the variation of repititive shape more exciting to the viewers eye. Mr. Wilson rarely paints in the details in the faces of the people he paints, rather he concentrates on the gesture and the silhouette of the painter. The soft greys are a perfect compliment to the clothes and the skin tone of the ladies.

The last painting to look at is “African Royalty.” The umbrella’s all have a unique organic shape and no curved handle. Interesting indeed. The dresses are all of bright color as you find in Africa and since no details are included such as folds or hems of the dresses, the viewer is able to take in the whole picture as different flat and bold colors. The feet are gone and the hands are seen as a simple shape connecting the arm.  The background reminds me of dust as you often see in the african desert.


One of my favorite sayings of Mr. Wilson’s is ” There is so much to paint, and so little time.” Doesn’t seem as if he was ever at a loss for subject material.


Mr. Wilson’s work is included in the Smithsonian’s collection. Mr. Wilson grew up in a very segregated time and when he enrolled at Kentucky State he was only given the option to study agriculture and education. After deciding he wanted to pursue an art career he went North to Chicago.

Hope you enjoyed learning about this great artist! Keep learning!