When I think of great art and artists there are many “sung” names that come to my mind. Rembrandt, Picasso, O’Keefe among many, many others. All of these creators are world renowned and recognized almost universally. An artist that is not as readily known (in many ways unsung) is but surely as qualified, accomplished and special in my heart and mind; John Biggers.
Even though Biggers is largely excluded from “The Canon” of art he is far from without noted achievements. He studied first with artist and educator Viktor Lowenfeld who helped enrich his knowledge of African and African-American art. He would go on to study with luminary artists Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett both of African-American decent. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and his fellow the ubiquitous; Orozco would also fortunately be among his teachers and inspirations.
Early on Biggers was included in an important exhibition at MoMA; “Young Negro Art” that was a huge boost to his career; but it was a UNESCO fellowship that would be in his own words “a positive shock…the most significant of my life's experiences." This fellowship allowed Biggers and his wife to travel to several African nations including Ghana and Nigeria. He would go on to speak about his journey to and around the African continent in this way…
"We spent most of our time in the country. People call it “Bush,” you know, that’s a name sort of like the hunter. I don’t care for that name for the country people because country people have a great traditional culture. And these cultures are all over the continent. They are beautiful. They have endured."
Educator John Biggers taught at Texas Southern University where he also painted murals and inspired generations of his students and patrons. Biggers toiled, bled, sweat and wept (to paraphrase Churchill) for his art and people. His art was dedicated to the world of the African Diaspora in content and spirit. His works (paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints) that early on were much entrenched in social commentaries were later to become in content and spirit allegorical, mystical even surreal. In his late years Biggers’ creations were much more design like and geometric in look.
In life John Biggers achieved his artistic and cultural goals and in the process the world was enriched. His works as those of every true great are their own most eloquent commentary. A portfolio of his hands mastery for your viewing and enjoyment follows: