Archibald John Motley, Jr.: Issues of Race

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Archibald John Motley, Jr.: Issues of Race

Archibald John Motley, Jr. (1891-1981) saw first hand the negative stereotypes placed upon African Americans that had been endured since times of slavery. Therefore, he realized the invocative power of images within a culture. Motley then began his quest to transform America 's stereotypical Negro perspective. In spite of his honorably proclaimed goals, "there is still a hint of [racial] exclusion reflected in his life and his work…" (Leath, 2). Motley 's apparent issues with race are what this paper shall attempt to explore.
The 1925 portrait, The Octoroon Girl, and 1922 's Octoroon, are two of several portraits painted of mulatto women by Motley. They possess a dignified air, distinguished dress, and have very attractive European facial features. They are certainly not representative of the African American majority—part of the exception not the ‘rule '. These paintings serve as documentation of two specific things: America 's history of miscegenation, and obsession with race. Motley 's personal fixation with skin color, linked to issues of class and decent, never strayed far from his artwork. Motley shows this in his 1920 Self Portrait, where his "frank and direct gaze, his highlighted forehead, and his ‘aristocratic ' emphasized nose," are evidence of, "his physiognomic association of class with physical features" (Leath, 4). However, as Patton makes clear, Motley 's images "of fair-skinned women in middle-class settings denoting affluence, education and cosmopolitanism, were a visual rebuttal to the popular media images of the ‘mammy ' or the ‘jezebel ' of black American women which continued to hold a place in the minds of the majority of Americans" (Patton, 123).
Though it is important to recognize this refutation against the views of the popular majority, one must remember the number of incredibly stereotypical thoughts regarding African Americans that were supported by Motley 's work. Motley



Cited: Barrie, Dennis. ‘Oral History Interview with Archibald Motley at his Home in Chicago, Illinois '. Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Interview. Online: http://www.archivesofamericanart.si.edu/oralhist/motley78.htm, 01/23/78. Chicago Historical Society. Just the Arti-FACTS – Painting the People. Online: http://www.chicagohs.org/AOTM/Feb98/feb98fact2a.html, 1998. Estes, Ben. Ed. Chicago Tribute Notable Individuals: Archibald J. Motley, Jr. Chicago Tribune Online: http://www.tribads.com/tribute/bio35.htm, 2001. Gilroy, Paul. Modern Tones, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance. Exhibition devised and selected by Richard J. Powell and David A. Bailey. London: Hayward Gallery: Institute of International Visual Arts; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Voices From the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Leath, Jennifer. Archibald John Motley, Jr. ; Art and Artist: The Myth of Inclusion? Online: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~leath/biography/introduction.htm, 2000. Leath, Jennifer. ‘Legacy '. Archibald John Motley, Jr. ; Art and Artist: The Myth of Inclusion? Online: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~leath/biography/legacy.htm

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