Our next Artist You Need To Know is painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher and lecturer Faith Ringgold.
From ARTnews: “Faith Ringgold has made flags bleed and girls fly. She has painted indelible images that speak to the racism endemic to American society and crafted quilts that inspire joy and hope. She has created spaces for Black women artists kept out of white-led mainstream institutions, and she has pushed behemoths like the Museum of Modern Art to be more inclusive….She has written award-winning books, and she once curated an exhibition that went down in history and briefly landed her in jail. All of these activities made Ringgold one of today’s most inventive artists.”
Faith Ringgold was born in Harlem, New York in 1930. She earned a B.S (1955) and M.A. (1959) in visual art from the City College of New York (she was the first black scholar and woman to study art at this institution, as before her, only white men had been admitted to its liberal arts programme). Ringgold is Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of California in San Diego (she began teaching there in 1987 and retired in 2002), and has been awarded an amazing 23 Honorary Doctorates. After travelling through Europe in the early 1960s, she began to producer her first political paintings (roughly from 1963 to 1967): these are her American People Series, which presented the civil rights movement from the perspective of black women and her Slave Rape series. Her first one-woman show, American People opened December 19, 1967 at Spectrum Gallery in New York City. The show included three of her most iconic artworks: The Flag is Bleeding, U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power, and Die.
In 2019 a major retrospective of Ringgold’s work was mounted by London’s Serpentine Galleries (Ringgold’s first show at a European institution). In 2022, her first major retrospective exhibition opened at the New Museum, New York, and was later mounted at De Young Museum, San Francisco. Later that same year, Ringgold’s work was included in the exhibition Women Painting Women at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Ringgold’s work can be found in the following significant collections: Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, New York), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Glenstone (Potomac, Maryland), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Phoenix Art Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia), Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, VA) and the Baltimore Museum of Art (Maryland).
She published her first book Tar Beach in 1991, which has won over 20 awards (including the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award for the best-illustrated children’s book of 1991). This inspired an animated version produced by HBO, with Natalie Cole in 2010. Ringgold’s book is based on the story quilt of the same title from The Woman on a Bridge Series, 1988. The original painted story quilt, Tar Beach, can be found in the permanent collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Ringgold has illustrated 17 children’s books. These include Dinner at Aunt Connie’s (1986), Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky (1992), Harlem Renaissance Party (2015), We Came to America (2016) and My Dream of Martin Luther King. A number of her illustrated books build upon her quilted works, expanding ideas and her art in new and different ways.
Her autobiography We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold was published in 1995, and reissued in 2005.
In 2022, in conversation with a number of artists and writers, Ringgold offered the following: “I create work that pleases me, that thrills me, that speaks to me. But it has to tell a story that is profound.” It’s good to note here that the previously mentioned ‘exhibition that briefly landed her in jail’ was regarding an American law regarding ‘defacing’ the flag: and someone studying Ringgold’s work might see a correlation between that and her later work with the incarcerated and political prisoners….
Much more of Faith Ringgold’s work can be seen at her site here (including numerous videos of Ringgold speaking about her art, life and legacy here): and a fine article that speaks to specific significant works that have defined both Ringgold’s career, as well as being hallmarks of art history in the United States of the last half century can be read here. A longer article that charts her work and activism chronologically can be enjoyed here.