Robert Colescott

Artist: Robert Colescott


            Dates of birth/death if applicable: 1925-2009

            Place of Birth: Oakland, CA

            Current residence: Died in Tucson, AZ

            Education: 1949-BA University of California – Berkeley; and MFA

            Employment: Teacher at Portland State University

Major Shows/Galleries

Represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1997, the first African-American to do so.


He served in WWII and his tour of duty took him to Paris. When the war ended he enrolled in Berkeley. 


A teacher’s residency took him to Cairo, Egypt.  He returned in 1967 to the United States, which he found changed by the civil rights movement, and to the Bay Area, where artists like Roy De Forest, William T. Wiley, Joan Brown, Robert Arneson and especially Peter Saul had developed extravagant, often caustic figurative styles. By the end of the 1960s he had found his mature style.


Media: acrylic

Technique: Figurative painter, His improvisational approach had precedents in jazz and Abstract Expressionism. He said he wanted his surface to “squirm.

Contextual information

            Influences (historical/personal/political): During a year in Paris he studied with the painter Fernand Léger — whose emphasis on scale, color and narration made a lasting impression — and spent a lot of time in museums, looking at 19th-century painting.

Steeped in history and art history, Mr. Colescott often found new uses and meanings for the landmarks of Western painting, borrowing compositions and characters from van Eyck, Goya and Manet and peppering his scenes with the Africanized faces from Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

In “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook,” from 1975, he reinterpreted Emmanuel Leutze’s famous painting of George Washington during the American Revolution with Carver at the center, accompanied by black cooks, Aunt Jemimas and banjo players. “Eat Dem Taters” another painting from 1975, substituted laughing black people for the pious Dutch peasants of van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” to attack, in his words, “the myth of the happy darky.”


            Anecdotes, Quotes, web links to articles (highlight which articles may be worth making a hard copy for the binder) 

He grew up in music playing family and always kept a drum kit in his studio.

He was married five times, four ending in divorce.

His Obituary from the NY Times: