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Douglas, Aaron

Aaron Douglas, who was born on May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas, is the American artist perhaps most closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, and for synthesizing formal and symbolic elements of African art with a modern European aesthetic. He studied at the University of Nebraska, from which he graduated, as well as Columbia University Teachers College. His artistic career began as an illustrator, working in ink drawings. In 1925, attracted by the presence of Alaine Locke, philosopher and cultural critic, Douglas moved to Harlem, New York to be part of Lockes' New Negro Movement. This movement expressed African Americans' new pride in their African heritage, manifesting itself in literature, song, dance, and for Douglas, most significantly art. Murals and drawings were his primary works, focusing on religious customs and favoring a geometric style which he developed in the 1920s while studying under Reiss. Douglas reduced forms to their fundamental shapes, such as circles, triangles, and rectangles, and tended to represent both objects and black people as silhouettes. Most of these forms are hard-edged and angular, reminiscent of the Art-Deco designs popular in the United States during the early twentieth century. Some figures, however, have a curvilinear character, apparently influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau trend in France. After earning a master's degree in art education from Columbia University in 1944, he became a permanent member of the Fisk University faculty, serving as a professor and chair of the art department there until his retirement in 1966. One of the first African American artists to affirm the value of the black experience, Douglas continued to lecture and paint until his death, stating his refusal "to compromise and see blacks as anything other than a proud and majestic people."

Title: Emperor Jones
Medium: woodblock on mulberry paper, 1972 edition, inscribed bottom and numbered 19/20, signed lower right, images approx. 8" x 5-3/8"