Expanded for DMA Members: From the Page to the Painting: Literary Connections

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2002, coal dust, printing ink, oil stick, glue, acrylic paint, and gesso on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2004.29, © 2002 Glenn Ligon

This work features the opening lines of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village.” The story traces Baldwin’s time in a Swiss village where the majority of residents had never encountered a person of African descent. 

As a fellow gay Black man, Glenn Ligon incorporated Baldwin’s words in hundreds of his works. (Learn more about the artist’s interpretation of this essay and his choice of materials here.)

Glittering coal dust glued to a black surface makes the words nearly impossible to decipher. Similarly, the author and artist share their experiences of being seen but not understood.

Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, 1952, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift via Charles Wylie to honor Catherine and Will Rose, 2007.62.2, © Estate of Gordon Parks

As a staff photographer for Life magazine, Gordon Parks created the photo-essay “A Man Becomes Invisible” in conjunction with the publication of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. Parks and Ellison were friends and shared an interest in raising the visibility of Black lives in postwar United States.

Ellison’s unnamed, Black protagonist lives in an underground room. He is protected from a racist society only by remaining invisible—hidden below ground.

Parks imagines Ellison’s protagonist warily emerging from his subterranean sanctuary, an event only hinted at in the book’s epilogue.

Lorna Simpson, Blue Turned Temporal, 2019, ink, watercolor, and screenprint on gessoed fiberglass, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.16, © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang

This work was first shown in “Darkening,” a 2019 exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York City. The exhibition opened with an excerpt from Robin Coste Lewis’s poem “Using Black to Paint Light: Walking Through a Matisse Exhibit, Thinking About the Arctic and Matthew Henson.”

The poem points to one of the many layers of meaning behind Lorna Simpson’s choice of subject. Matthew Henson was an African American explorer who made seven trips to the Arctic between 1891 and 1912.

The brilliant color of Blue Turned Temporal resonates with lines from Lewis’s poem that note the absence of white and whiteness in the frozen northern environment. “The unanticipated shock: so much believed to be white is actually—strikingly—blue.”

(Read Lewis’s full poem.)

Naudline Pierre, Lest You Fall, 2019, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 2020.8, © Courtesy the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

The DMA recently acquired this painting by Naudline Pierre, and will host the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in 2021. Pierre’s paintings use vibrant colors, androgynous figures, and otherworldly spaces to present scenes of transcendence. 

Pierre draws on her religious upbringing and examinations of Christian iconography in Renaissance and Romantic art. Her elongated figures are often compared to El Greco and her dynamic compositions conjure William Blake’s prints and paintings. 

The title refers to 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The central figure is both falling and floating, supported by winged arms of surrounding figures. Pierre’s Biblical and art historical references are only two of the multiple sources she reimagines into her “personal mythology.” 

(Read an interview with Pierre during her 2019-2020 residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.


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