Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

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This audio guide highlights selected works in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist. Curators Richard J. Powell, Carter Foster, and others provide additional commentary.

Archibald J. Motley Jr., The Picnic, 1926

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RICHARD POWELL: We have in this image an outdoor scene of people having a good time, couples listening to a guitarist, couples looking at one another under a tree.

NARRATOR: Richard Powell on Motley’s painting, Picnic.

RICHARD POWELL: We have wine and bread, and this kind of a convivial, relaxed scene. But Motley doesn't end there, he infuses in the scene a kind of a fierce modernism. That fierce modernism, I would say, is reflected in a purple tree, in the yellow leaves on that tree, in the incredible pink, and magenta, and purple clothes that many of these people wear. In fact, the colors of many of these people go beyond naturalistic colors. They seem to take on these incredible neon-like chromatics. Then he distorts the bodies in subtle ways so that one gets a sense that this is not just showing people out in a park enjoying themselves, but this is a composition. This is a composition that has to do with almost a modernistic energy that infiltrates everything on the south side of Chicago.

RICHARD POWELL: We have in this image an outdoor scene of people having a good time, couples listening to a guitarist, couples looking at one another under a tree.

NARRATOR: Richard Powell on Motley’s painting, Picnic.

RICHARD POWELL: We have wine and bread, and this kind of a convivial, relaxed scene. But Motley doesn't end there, he infuses in the scene a kind of a fierce modernism. That fierce modernism, I would say, is reflected in a purple tree, in the yellow leaves on that tree, in the incredible pink, and magenta, and purple clothes that many of these people wear. In fact, the colors of many of these people go beyond naturalistic colors. They seem to take on these incredible neon-like chromatics. Then he distorts the bodies in subtle ways so that one gets a sense that this is not just showing people out in a park enjoying themselves, but this is a composition. This is a composition that has to do with almost a modernistic energy that infiltrates everything on the south side of Chicago.


Archibald J. Motley Jr., _The Picnic_, 1936. Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 91.4 cm). Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne