February 23, 2018

Burroughs and Other Beautiful Women

        Today I want to share a small sampling of work by Margaret Taylor Burroughs (U.S.A., 1915-2010), who serves to celebrate Black History Month in February and look forward to Women’s History Month in March.  I’m starting with this great Black Venus, who is surfing fishback like the funny sixteenth-century piece I featured last summer.  She certainly looks all Venus: beautiful, impassively snooty, totally in command of her situation as she pulls up out of the shimmering ocean light surrounded by cupids, like a movie star pulling up in a limo surrounded by paparazzi.  It was a powerful message to show a dark-skinned goddess of beauty.
        Burroughs has depicted another powerful black woman in Mother Africa - Mother of All Humanity, but her title shows one of the important points about Burroughs’s work.  While she celebrated her own background and her own people, she was not confined to a narrow view of people.  She said, “I wish my art to speak not
only for my people - but for all humanity,” and “The color of skin is a minor difference among men which has been stretched beyond its importance.”  One of the things I like about block printing is that black and white have equal importance and are necessary for each other’s impact, so that whether a person in a block print is depicted as black or white can be more about the needs of composition and aesthetics than any human construct of race.  Burroughs, however, made a number of lovely images of black and white people interacting together in simple coexistence and companionship.  She also did some pieces in which people’s faces are half black and half white, something else that looks really good in block printing, which Burroughs could use to explore the message that humanity includes all skin colors and individuals include diverse backgrounds.
        Today I was trying to focus on some of Burroughs’s beautiful women, and while I began with two mythic figures, most of her people are ordinary.  This last piece is a lovely example of a completely ordinary and completely beautiful mother and child.  The carving is quite simple, with lots of use of outlines, and even double outlines around many areas.  There’s also some use of tiny stippled marks for highlighting, a technique used with much more precision and detail in Mother Africa.  This mother is sweet and loving, with eyes only for her daughter, but the girl stares solemnly, even challengingly, out at the viewer.  This is a girl who will be strong.

[Black Venus, block print by Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, 1957 (Image from 1stdibs);
Mother Africa - Mother of All Humanity, block print by Burroughs, 1968(?) (Image from Art Goddess);
Mother & Child, linocut by Burroughs, 1997 (Image from Paramour Fine Arts).]

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