A memorial exhibition of the art of the late Elizabeth Catlett, including wood, stone and bronze sculptures for which she is best known, is currently being shown at the June Kelly Gallery.
The exhibition, in collaboration with the Ellen Sragow Gallery, also includes examples of Catlett’s paintings and prints. It will continue through February 25.
Entitled Remembering Elizabeth Catlett, the exhibition recalls the distinctive vision and sculptural skill and style that Catlett demonstrated throughout her career – from her first prize in sculpture, a limestone Mother and Child, at the 1940 American Negro Exposition in Chicago, to Torso, a spare abstract figure of a female form in black marble at her 2009 gallery exhibition in New York.
Regardless of medium, Catlett’s work celebrates African-American identity and chronicles the black experience. Most often, it is the beauty of the female form to which she pays homage, in the earlier years endowing it with maternal compassion and tenderness, later unveiling the sensuality of the physical form, giving it a dignity and an independence in posture, her head uplifted and eyes gazing steadily forward.
In Catlett’s last work in wood, Bather, a young woman is standing resplendent in her nudity, arms crossed on the top of her head, proud and rightfully confident of her own femininity and sensuality.
Catlett was born in 1915 and died in 2012 at 97. Throughout her artistic life, she moved between figurative and abstract styles in her work. The exhibition in its entirety reflects her nearly seven decades of sensitivity toward the beauty and sensuality she found in her subjects, particularly the human form, and her materials.
At the University of Iowa, where she was a post-graduate student, she studied with Grant Wood, head of the Art Department, and was influenced in her sculpture pieces by his concept of regionalism and the common thread of humanity that joins all people.
Catlett studied ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago; many of her most important early pieces are in terra cotta. Later she moved to New York, where she worked with French sculptor Ossip Zadkine, an important and influential teacher, and learned printmaking at the Art Students League.
Catlett moved to Mexico in the late 1940s, where she continued to study ceramics with Francisco Zúñiga and woodcarving with Jose L. Ruiz at the Escuela de Pintura y Escultura. She became a member, along with her late husband, Mexican artist Francisco Mora, of the El Taller de Grafica Popular, a printmaking collective in Mexico City. They remained members until 1966.
Catlett was born in Washington, DC. She earned a BA from Howard University and an MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa. She has been the recipient of many awards in sculpture and printmaking and has received 12 honorary doctorate degrees, including Pratt Institute in 1999 and Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.
Her work has been shown in numerous one-person and group shows throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe. She is represented in many national and international museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; The Narodni Muzeum (National Museum), Prague, Czech Republic; and El Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City.