Historical Journal

Journal Archives,Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Archives

Raymond Saunders: Paintings

February 28, 1990
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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February 28 through April 22, 1990
In Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, American Painting the handwritten names of the two eminent African American artists appear on the left, as an act of homage and as a clue to its content. As are many of Saunders’s paintings, Romare Bearden… is about the act of painting, implicating both his own experience and the broader historical context as well. A paint-stained paper palette is affixed at its top center and a mixing tray attached at the right is encrusted with pigments. These references to the literal making of art also allude to the time when Jasper Johns’s paint cans and Jim Dine’s brushes dramatically altered the status of such “non-art” materials.
Although Saunders’s energetic and visceral vocabulary of gestural markings align him with such predecessors as the Abstract Expressionists, his work is closer to the generation that followed this great period of American art. In the late fifties, Rauschenberg and his contemporaries explored making art from the collage of detritus of city life. Raymond Saunders continues in this tradition, demonstrating just how rich a strategy it can be.
For Saunders, “process” connotes the workings of memory as well as the creative act. References to Mexico, a country he loves to visit, are evident in Romare Bearden… and are as varied as a recycled retablo painting, a ghostly drawing of sinuous calla lilies and the hand-written words Oamca, a place name, and /a fe, Spanish for faith. Time is marked in a jotted line of sequential numbers and recalled in an actual calendar for 1988. His fondness for balancing spontaneous, painterly elements against more orderly ones may account for the profusion of checkerboards, printed paint swatches, and other regularized grid patterns.
A curious menagerie encamps across the surface of Romare Bearden…. Culled from bookplates, posters, and naive drawings and rendered in a variety of styles, these bunnies, iguanas, alligators, bulls, and panthers offset the painting’s abstract components with representational images that invite interpretation. In Saunders’s paintings these specific fragments serve as triggers for our emotions as much as for our minds: “I don’t want the realism for the sake of recognition, I want the realism for the sake of what it feels like — how one is moved by something, as opposed to just seeing and recognizing it.”‘
In Romare Bearden… Saunders pleasures us with exquisite renderings of a range of still life objects that frequently appear in his oeuvre. While yellow lemons, grisaille persimmons, and zero-gravity eggs offer a visual explication of edibles, a teapot, coffee pot, tumbler, and tall jar constitute a favored vocabulary of domestic houseware. But Saunders is not one to dwell on the seductive appeal of an academic tradition. In one segment a maddeningly unidentifiable range of small objects poke up from behind an implied covering.
A collage artist who loves the serendipity of the street, he offers his viewers a near-dissertation on marking and making, augmenting his paintings with such disparate variants as oriental calligraphy, children’s drawings, or calculations pencilled on the back of a found envelope. He is a master at layering, evident in the physically built-up surfaces of his canvases as well as in the multi-leveled significance of any given element.
Saunders is an intuitive and consummate colorist who makes black an active participant in his spectrum. In his hands black is not an absence but a presence, a compositional element replete with formal and iconographic significance. As a field it can read as a blackboard, an asphalt topping, or an inky realm, light years away. Undoubtedly, black is a badge of pride as well. An African-American artist with a mischievous streak, Saunders occasionally includes such provocative and politically charged images as a jaunty wedge of watermelon or a snarling black panther, as in Romare Bearden.. ..
As if to wink to the viewer who savors all manifestations of the artist’s hand, Saunders completes his paintings with a rubber-stamped impression of his name in block letters. He’s a master teaser.
Judith Stein
All works courtesy of the artist and the Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, California
On Eva’s Space and Time, 1985
Mixed media on canvas, 76″ x 79″
Celeste at Age 5 Invited Me to Tea, 1986
Mixed media on canvas, 104-1/4″ x 83-1/4″
Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, American Painting, 1987-88
Mixed media on canvas, 85″ X 83″
Still Life Mixed in with Other Voices, 1988
Mixed media on canvas, 88-1/2″ x 96-1/4″
Vivienne, 1989
Mixed media on paper, 156″ x 84-1/2″
Reading, 1989
Twenty-five drawings, graphite on paper, each 8-3/4″ x 9-1/2”
Raymond Saunders
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1934
Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1950-53, B.FA., 1960
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1953-57
Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, 1953-55
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1954-57
California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California, M.FA., 1961

Selected Awards
1975 Granger Memorial Award, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1976 Guggenheim Fellowship
1977 National Endowment for the Arts Award
1984 National Endowment for the Arts Award
1989 Award for Visual Arts

Selected Individual Exhibitions Since 1980
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
Art Gallery, Hunter College, New York, NY
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Marion Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA
University of Texas, San Antonio, TX
Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles, CA
Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College, Moraga, CA
Terry Dintenfass, Inc., New York, NY
University Gallery of Fine Art, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
University Gallery of Fine Art, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Cava Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Addison Gallery of American Art , Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
Carleton College, Northfield, MN
Greenville County Museum, Greenville, SC
Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Selected Group Exhibitions Since 1980
Freeing the Spirit The Church in the Black Community, Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA
The Controlled Gesture: An Aspect of Bay Area Abstraction, Palo Alto Cultural Center, CA
Selections from the James Michener Collection of American Art, Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center, Wichita Falls, TX
Post-Modernist Metaphors, The Alternative Museum, New York, NY
Ten California Artists, Loker Gallery, The Museum of Afro-American Art, California Museum of Science and Industry, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA
Forty Famous Californians, Bennington College Art Gallery, Bennington, VT
Afro-American Abstractions, Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles, CA
ResourcelReservoir. Collage and Assemblage, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
Second Western State ExhibitionlThe 38th Corcoran Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Seven American Artists, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
The Human Condition: SFMMA Biennial III, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
San Francisco Bay Area Painting, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
Tradition and Conffict: Images of a Turbulent Decade, 1963-1973, traveling exhibition organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY
Harlem Renaissance, Bucknell University Center Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Black American Expression, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL
Personal Reference, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO
Made in the USA, University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
Selected Works by Black Artists from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Readers Digest, Pleasantville, NY
20th Century Watercolors: Yesterday and Today, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA
40th Annual Academy Institute Purchase Exhibition, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, NY
The Appropriate Object, Albright‑Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Selected Works ofAfrican American Artists, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, New York, NY
Award for Visual Arts: South Eastern Center for Contemporary Arts Exhibition, will travel to New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; SECCA, Winston-Salem, NC; Fogg Gallery, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; BMW Gallery, New York, NY; BMW Gallery, Munich, Germany

Selected Public Collections
Achenbach Foundation, Palace for the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Beaumont‑May Gallery, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Elvehjem Art Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Fisk University, Nashville, TN
H unter College , New York, NY
Howard University, Washington, DC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, NY
Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
St. Louis Museum of Fine Arts, St. Louis, MO
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
James A. Michener Collection, University of Texas, Austin, TX
University of Utah Art Museum, Salt Lake City, UT
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Morris Gallery exhibitions of the work of contemporary artists with a connection to Philadelphia are chosen by a committee composed of area artists, museum personnel, and collectors, and the curatorial staff of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Other Morris Gallery exhibitions of contemporary American art are curated by the Morris Gallery Coordinator, Judith Stein. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibitions Committee are: Moe Brooker, Diane Burko, Diane Karp, Brian Meunier, Dr. Perry Ottenberg, Richard Sigismund, Ann Temkin; Academy staff Judith Stein, Linda Bantel, Susan Danly, and Frank H. Goodyear, Jr., Ex Officio.
Copyright, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1990
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