The exhibition premiered at the
This national tour is an amends-making gesture to cement Motley (1891-1981) belatedly in the canon of great American artists. His depictions of
Motley was born in
His mixed-race marriage kept him on the periphery of belonging to either tribe, and it is often suggested that the bald man seen in many of Motley's paintings is the artist inserting himself,
His earliest paintings are portraits of the African-American elites of
But it is when he moves to genre scenes of gatherings in barrooms and dance halls that his colors and compositions take flight.
He had the eye of a social anthropologist and included telltale signifiers in his portraits -- artworks, small sculptures, books, flowers and furnishings that were as salient as the spittoons, cards and cocktails in his back-room scenes. He painted the strivers and the raconteurs with the same love as he did the society matrons and lovely young dancers.
His genre scenes of a good time on Saturday night, whether at a
The paintings fairly throb with music, laughter and the sound of voices that may have been overserved by alcohol. The colors are intense, and a bright halo of cadmium orange outlines the figures, suggesting the bodies are as hot as the music.
Many of Motley's paintings are still held by his descendants, as he was loath to part with them. Only a few are in the permanent collections of museums, which abetted his waning legacy. This exhibit should go a long way in reintroducing Motley to American museum-goers.
"Motley is someone we wish we'd known sooner," says Carter curator
Although few people will know what to expect when entering the galleries at the Carter, no one is likely to forget Motley's name after seeing this dynamic and moving exhibit.
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