20 Top Selling Artists at Five Black-Owned Art Galleries
By Shantay Robinson
While the appreciation of art can be subjective, typically numbers don’t lie. When patrons love an artist, they show it with their wallets. So, this year the folks at Black Art in America decided to poll several galleries for their top selling artists. The results vary from some artists new to the black-owned gallery scene to those artists who have been showing for decades. Understanding which artists are hot right now is good for both buyers and sellers. This list can give you a good idea about which new artists you should snatch up while you can. And it can indicate which artists it’s a good time to sell. Some of the artists on this list are no longer with us, but their art is living on and patrons are steadily collecting their work. While this list is by no means exhaustive, as there are only five galleries polled, it does give you an idea that anyone can be a top-selling artist, new or experienced, young or mature.
Stella Jones Art Gallery, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, is committed to providing collectors with art of the highest aesthetic quality and raising the aspirations of the youth through visual arts. The gallery was a dream inspired by Dr. Samella Lewis, and in 1996 it was realized. The gallery has been located in the same downtown location for 20 years.
- Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) worked with graphic design and sculpture. Although Catlett received a position with the Public Works of Art Project in the 1930s, her work did not begin to show regularly until the 1960s and 1970s when the Black Arts Movement was underway. She had 50 solo exhibitions including shows the Studio Museum in Harlem, Howard University, and Los Angeles County Museum. Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Clark Atlanta Art Museum. Some of her famous works include Students Aspire (1977) and Sharecropper (1970).
- Huey Lee-Smith (1915-1999) was the second African American to be elected to the National Academy of Design, as Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first. He was made a full member within four years. In the 1930s, he worked for the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration. Lee-Smith taught at the Art Student League for 15 years. He painted the official portrait of David Dinkins, the first African American Mayor of New York City. And his work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Detroit Instituted of Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Charly Palmer, who is also known as Carlos Palmer for some of his earlier works, has an extensive career as a graphic designer having been commissioned to create by the 1996 Olympic Games and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. His work is in the collections of Atlanta Life Insurance, McDonald’s Corporation, Miller Brewing Company and Coca Cola Company. He has illustrated children’s books, one for which he received the 2018 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award.
- Patrick Waldemar is a contemporary Jamaican watercolor artist who painted a mural for the Bank of Jamaica. He paints watercolor landscapes representing the lush environments of the Caribbean. As an international artist, his work is represented in collections in the US, UK, Canada, and Jamaica. He’s had exhibitions at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, The National Gallery Kingston, and the Jamaica High Commission.
Galerie Myrtis, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is named for Myrtis Bedolla, who has over 30 years of experience as an art advisor. The gallery was founded in 2006, and in 2017 was voted Best Gallery by the Baltimore Sun. The gallery’s mission “is to utilize the visual arts to raise awareness for artists who deserve recognition for their contributions in artistically portraying our historic and cultural landscapes; and to recognize art movements that paved the way for freedom of artistic expression.”
- Delita Martin is a contemporary artist whose artworks depicts portraits of black women by layering vintage and family photographs with printmaking, drawing, sewing, collaging and painting techniques. According to Martin, her goal “is to create images as a visual language to tell the story of women that have often been marginalized, offering a different perspective of the lives of Black women.”
- Alfred Conteh is a sculptor, painter, and mixed-media artist who has been exhibiting since 2003. He’s participated inseveral solo shows including exhibitions at September Gray Gallery, Hearne Fine Art Gallery, and Harriet Tubman Museum. Some of his group exhibitions include “Portraits of Who We Are” at the David C. Driskell Center and “Bitter/Sweet” at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum. Conteh’s most recent works, “Two Fronts, is a visual exploration of how people of the African Diaspora in the South are facing economic, educational, and psychological wars.”
- Ronald Jackson is a self-taught figurative painter who captures “intimate settings to use as a gateway to ponder the complexities of the human experience, as well as the society that influences them.” After 21 years of service in the Army, Jackson followed a circuitous path to his artistic practice. He creates visually poetic work that aims to foster an interactive experience with the viewer. His work has been exhibited at Miami Art Basel and in Seoul Korea.
- Tawny Chatmon is a self-taught photographer who picked up the camera once she decided being in front of it wasn’t enough. With the birth of her son, she took pictures of his growth and with the passing of her father she used photography to document his last days. Now photography is a means of communication for her, evolving as she evolves. She states, “The portraits I create today are almost always inspired by my children and my desire to contribute something important to a world I want them to thrive in.”
September Gray Gallery, located in Atlanta, Georgia, specializes in the work of established, mid-career and emerging artists in order to preserve the legacy and narrative of African diasporic culture. Gray has a decade of experience as an art consultant for which she is celebrated for articulating and executing single acquisitions, as well as long-term collecting strategies.
- Kevin Cole, whose artwork can be found on exhibit at the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has had more than three decades of experience as an artist and art educator. His work is largely symbolic of African Americans struggle with freedom. When he was young, his grandfather stressed the importance of voting, and he took him to a tree where black men were lynched by their neckties when attempting to exercise that right. Instead of creating solemn works to reverence this history, Cole’s works are bold and bright in an attempt to celebrate survival.
- Richard Mayhew is one of the founding members of Spiral, an art collective that also included Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, and Norman Lewis. His artwork graced the cover of Halima Taha’s book, Collecting African American Art: Works on Canvas and Paper. His work resides in the permanent collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His bright and abstract landscape paintings are inspired by his love of jazz and his Native American and African American heritage. Richard Mayhew was inspired to paint scenic shorelines from his youth on Long Island’s shore. He paints the spirit of the landscape and not the landscape itself.
- Jamele Wright Sr. is a newly minted MFA from School of Visual Arts. Through his work he wants to encourage discourse among people of the African diaspora. His use of nails, which symbolize power directly reflects the artwork of the Nkisi Nkondi people. He states, “My work is concerned with the Black American vernacular experience. Collecting found materials, Georgia red clay, and Dutch Wax cloth, creating a conversation between family, tradition, and the spiritual relationship between Africa and the South.
- Kevin Okeith is a self-taught impressionist painter whose subject matter challenges the dominant narrative depicting African identity. He was selected as a National Winner of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series contest and awarded a showing at Miami Art Basel represented by Russell and Danny Simmons.
Thelma Harris Art Gallery, located in Oakland, California, has been exhibiting artwork for over two decades. The gallery produces about ten exhibitions based on contemporary themes each year. The gallery works with Harlem Renaissance legacy artists Palmer Hayden and Aaron Douglas, and it exclusively handles the estate of William Tolliver.
- William Tolliver (1951-2000) was a self-taught artist who rose to popularity in the 1980s. By eight years old, Tolliver was copying the art of the High Renaissance such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. In his art, he depicts scenes from the everyday, from workers to jazzmen. His work evokes the positive in life. He created a promotional poster for the 1996 Olympics.
- Coming of age in the 1950s, Richard Mayhew was inspired by Abstract Expressionism. He enrolled in classes at the Brooklyn Museum’s School of Art, Pratt Institute, and Columbia University. Mayhew earned a grant that allowed him to study at the Accademia delle Belle Art in Florence, Italy. Mayhew has taught at the Brooklyn Museum, the Art Students League, Smith College, and Pennsylvania State University. After retiring from teaching, Mayhew moved to Santa Cruz, California with his wife. And he continues to paint there.
- Richmond Barthè (1901-1989) was a successful painter during the Harlem Renaissance. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago. Along with Jacob Lawrence, Barthè was one of the first African American painter to be included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His most notable work is a bronze sculpture of Toussaint L’Ouvertrure, a leader of the Haitian Revolution. Barthè’s works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Art Institute of Chicago.
- Charles White (1918-1979) recently received a retrospective of his artistic career that traveled to the Modern Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum, and Art Institute of Chicago. White’s work is recently being celebrated after being overlooked for some time after his death. One of White’s most celebrated works is a mural he painted for Hampton University, The Contribution of the Negro to American Democracy. White was a champion for several well-known African American artists, including Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, and Alonzo Davis, as he taught them at Otis Art Institute.
Black Art in America, located in Columbus, Georgia, has been documenting, preserving and promoting the contributions of the African American arts community since 2010. The 3000 square foot gallery has regular exhibitions featuring work by legacy artists and contemporary artists. In addition to the news site at www.blackartinamerica.com, Najee Dorsey runs Shop BAIA, an online portal to purchase original artworks. BAIA is the leading online platform for black art enthusiasts.
- Evita Tezeno’s collages, with their color, texture, and shape, are inspired by Cubism. Tezeno mentors teenage girls, and through her work, you can see her dedication to them. She creates images of women who might not have the luxury to dream in their waking lives, but who when pieced together in her collages, evoke a nostalgia of girlhood.
- Lavett Ballard’s visual storytelling comprises of archival photographs affixed to small and large wood fences. The fence represent those invisible barriers like race, sex, and class that keep people in and out of certain places. Her work has been exhibited as the African American Heritage Museum of South Jersey, Noyes Museum at Stockton University and the African American Heritage Museum of South New Jersey.
- Najee Dorsey, the owner of Black Art in America, creates mixed-media and digital media collages of African American life, the rural south, historical narratives, and folklore. Dorsey’s work is in the collections of Columbus Museum, David C. Driskell Center, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and many other permanent collections and hundreds of private collections. Dorsey’s work has been featured in Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan; Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia; and African American Museum in Dallas Texas.
- Zoya Taylor is practically a self-taught artist although she has taken art classes. She creates images of idiosyncratic figures that exhibit innocence and experience, as she draws from her Jamaican heritage for inspiration. She has had solo and group exhibitions in Italy, England, Germany, Spain, Jamaica, and Norway.
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Shantay Robinson, BAIA resident scholar has participated in Burnaway’s Art Writers Mentorship Program, Duke University’s The New New South Editorial Fellowship, and CUE Art Foundation’s Art Critic Mentoring Program. She has written for Burnaway, ArtsATL, ARTS.BLACK, AFROPUNK, Number, Inc. and Washington City Paper. While receiving an MFA in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design, she served as a docent at the High Museum of Art. She is currently working on a PhD in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University.
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