Daily Art Moment: Elizabeth Catlett

A vertical rectangular book page with an image of the profiles of two heads in the center. The individuals appear to be male presenting and female presenting. Both figures face right, have dark brown skin, black hair, and flat, stylized features. The male-presenting individual has a close cap of hair, the female presenting figure’s hair has longer sides and bangs. Facial features are delineated by sharp, crisp shading around the nose, eyes, mouth, jaw and neck. Their expressions are neutral. Surrounding the heads and over a black background, uneven brushstrokes in bright orange blending to yellow and finally what appears to be the white paper, give the overall suggestion of fire and flames around the two heads. At the bottom edge of the page running from side to side and about one quarter the way up, is a row of silhouetted figures in blue over a black background. They appear to be marching, some with fists raised that almost touch the red and orange flames depicted above them. Their legs cross each other creating an X pattern. Each individual seems to be unique, some with hats or hairstyles evident. The stitching from the binding of the book can be seen at right, running from top to bottom along the extreme left edge. The central image is surrounded by a wide cream border.

“Not all art belongs on walls. Artists’ books are designed to be held by the viewer, creating an intimate and tactile relationship between the art and the onlooker. Often paired with text, artists’ books are a hybrid artform combining fine art, literature, and bookbinding. In ‘For My People,’ artist Elizabeth Catlett pairs six lithographs with Margaret Walker’s powerful poem of 1942 on the Black experience in America. Together, Catlett’s words and Walker’s text explore hope and despair, as well as the simple joys of life. Walker ends ‘For My People’ with a call to action that is as relevant today as it was in 1942: ‘Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.’ You can read the full poem at What are your hopes for ‘A Second Generation’?”

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

Elizabeth Catlett (American and Mexican, 1915–2012). A Second Generation from For My People, 1992. Illustrated book of six lithographs with text by Margaret Walker; bound in imported red Japanese linen over heavy boards, housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box. The Carol and Seymour Haber Collection, 2008.73.9a,b © unknown, research required

Related Content