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The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major

The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major

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The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major

216 pages
1 heure
Feb 1, 2019


In the first volume to collect the paintings and drawings of Clarence Major, readers are offered six decades of unique, colorful, and compelling canvases and works on paper—works of singular beauty and social relevance. These works represent Major’s personal painterly journey of passionate commitment to art.

This generous selection of more than 150 paintings and drawings shows us the melding of rich ideas and fertile images, the braiding of imagination and motif. With their pleasing arrangement of elements, the works come vividly to life. Major often juxtaposes a decorative scheme with his own unique choice of color combinations, reinforced with rigorous brushstrokes that release chromatic energy. The paintings complement and challenge the great traditions of Realism, Impressionism, and Expressionism.

Major is primarily a figurative and landscape painter. Here we find landscapes of singular vitality, rich in color and design, dramatic landscapes, and cityscapes representing, among other things, Major’s extensive travels in America and Europe. We are also treated to Major’s signature figurative work. In these paintings, he ventures fearlessly into familiar yet unexpected areas of richness.

Also included is an introductory essay, “The Education of a Painter,” written by the artist, which further sheds light on and helps to lay a biographical, social, and historical foundation for this essential volume, reflecting a lifetime of serious commitment to painting at its best.
Feb 1, 2019

À propos de l'auteur

Clarence Major is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Davis.

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The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major - Clarence Major


The Education of a Painter


1. The Apprentice Years

When I was four years old in 1941, in Mrs. Doris Hanley’s kindergarten class in Atlanta, Georgia, one day the assignment was to draw a car. Although all the kids drew their cars seen from the side, I was the only kid who put four wheels on my car.

Because logic told them only two wheels could be seen from the side, the others drew only two wheels on their cars. The teacher said the way I had drawn the car was exceptional. Mother thanked Mrs. Hanley, but she didn’t see the teacher’s opinion as cause for celebration; nor did it cause her to become a doting parent.

Nevertheless, and perhaps not surprisingly, both my mother and father were proud of my ability to draw. My father often bragged to his friends that I had a talent for drawing. My mother had more subtle ways of showing her approval—often by not showing disapproval.

However, my mother left my father in 1945 because he was abusive. He tried to control her and when he was unable to do so, he struck her. My father had had a miserable life due to poverty and growing up under conditions of oppressive racial segregation. Although it made him angry and cruel at times, he was always kind to his children, my sister and me.

My mother suffered his abuse as long as she could before moving permanently to Chicago. In time, she recovered from the abuse and grew stronger. In 1946 she sent for my sister and me. Our first years in Chicago were difficult because, at first, Mother was restricted to low-paying jobs. Plus, managers of apartment buildings considered a single woman with two children a risk.

Untitled landscape, 1950, watercolor, 12 × 18 in. Cynthia Bollinger, one of Clarence Major’s teachers at the Art Institute of Chicago, framed this painting.

At first we lived in a flat in what is now known as the historic Oscar Stanton De Priest House with a kindly elderly couple named Sadie and Eugene Crawford. Sadie and Eugene thought of Mother as the child they never had. My sister and I learned to think of them as grandparents, calling them Mama Crawford and Pops.

Mama Crawford encouraged me to be an artist. I was ten, in 1947, when I first visited the Art Institute of Chicago—located in Grant Park and built in 1879. It began as Chicago’s effort to compete with the cultural muscle of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was (and still is) famous for its vast Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections. It is also famous as both a home for fine arts generally, and for being a fine school for the arts.

Mama Crawford courageously took me there by city bus. In retrospect, I realized what a selfless act it was for her to have taken me to a museum where she knew she would have trouble getting around, especially up stairways and along endless corridors.

We walked around and through the galleries for quite a while before she spotted three young men—apparently art students because they were wearing paint-stained smocks—about to descend the steps to the School of the Art Institute in the basement.

She stopped them, introduced herself, and said, Gentlemen, can you help me find some art instructions for this boy? She had one arm around my shoulders.

One of the three—a slender African American, slightly stooped, with keen facial features and with an unlit pipe in his mouth—removed his pipe and said, Sure. I would be happy to give him art lessons. That was how I met Augustus Gus Nall.

Gus had little success during his lifetime, but after his death in 1995 his reputation began to grow. Gus was of that generation of African American painters that included Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Edmonia Lewis, Betye Saar, Sam Gillian, Norman Lewis, and many others—all accomplished and revered artists. Gus’s paintings have since been collected and sold at auction at impressive prices.

During the time I was in training in his studio, he was using Impressionist-like techniques, though in darker colors. (Years later he switched to abstract art.) His subjects tended to be portraits or landscapes or biblical or historical themes, having to do with slavery or the liberation from slavery.

From Mama Crawford and Pops’s flat, on South Parkway (later renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) near 46th Street, I soon started taking the bus out to Gus’s house on the West Side once a week to study drawing. Gus used the entire upstairs flat for his studio. He lived downstairs with his wife, Thelma, and her family.

At the back of the studio, which was formerly the kitchen, I worked at his drawing board under bright lights. This was the heart of the studio, where Gus, standing at his big easel, did most of his paintings.

Early on, Gus arranged still life configurations for me to draw. While I labored at trying to represent them, he monitored my efforts on a regular basis, teaching me to draw with greater flexibility and confidence. He was a good teacher.

Meanwhile, Mama Crawford cleared out a closet for me to use as a studio at home, but I also continued to work in my little bedroom off the kitchen.

Eventually, Gus switched me to watercolors. Once I could handle watercolors reasonably well, he switched me to working at small oil sketches. Oils were easier than watercolors. Watercolors were unforgiving. Mistakes were not easily corrected. Oils, on the other hand, were very forgiving. With a rag or paper towel, I simply wiped off the mistake and started over.

Later, Gus made a big easel for me in his backyard and delivered it to my room at Mama Crawford’s flat. I paid him for it out of my allowance and from money I received for running errands for Mama Crawford and walking her dog, a golden retriever named Sport.

To celebrate my new easel, I painted my first large picture: a religious scene from Genesis of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his sons Isaac and Ishmael. Abraham is stretched out on

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