Harlem embraced Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, but Houston’s Third Ward had John Biggers (1924 – 2001). This weekend, get up close and personal with one of the most influential African-American artists in post-war America, when Redbud Gallery mounts a show for this masterful muralist/painter/founder of the art department at Texas Southern University.
While known for his epic paintings — grand overviews that synthesize themes and iconography from the African continent with social realist issues from America swirling around the Civil Rights movement — Biggers’ show at Redbud focuses on more intimate work. “John Biggers: Maame” presents 30 pieces culled from private collections and offered for acquisition, ranging across all media, including paintings and works on paper. The latter encompasses drawings, prints and study sketches for larger canvases. Diverse themes are showcased, including works inspired by the artist’s game-changing trip to Africa in 1957, a visit funded by a UNESCO fellowship. (Biggers was one of the first black artists to make a pilgrimage to the continent.)
Biggers’ role in Houston needs to be re-explored and examined in depth, and perhaps this Redbud show will prompt a museum to consider the artist in the context of today. For without John Biggers, there might have not been Rick Lowe — Lowe’s concept for Project Row Houses as community was inspired by images in a classic Biggers work depicting shotgun houses.
Biggers also laid the path for the next generation of nationally recognized black talents such as Robert Pruitt and the Otabenga Jones collective, and most recently, the critically acclaimed Nathaniel Donnett, as well as frequent collaborators Robert Hodge and Phillip Pyle the Second, individually as well as in tandem as The Black Guys.
“John Biggers: Maame” at Redbud Gallery; exhibition opening Saturday, April 4, 6 to 9 pm; though April 29.