As I pack up to launch the French edition of my book The History of White People, my book is very much on my mind as a product of my own enunciation. This piece shows text from the English language edition of The History of White People and my mouth(s) as the speaker of those phrases.
Swampy Land by the River Don, 2018
August 2018: Time for me to sit down and finally make some art after two months on the road promoting my new book, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. Ah! A return to the simple enjoyment of making images. Let me go back to line and color and the joy of mark-making on paper.
Rummaging through my archive of images, I found an old map from my research at the Beinecke Library at Yale in 2012, when I was painting my Odalisque Atlas series. In 2018 I just liked the way it looked, this 18th-century map of a section of the Don River in Russia. It was the appearance of the thing that attracted me. I made a little 7" x 5" lino print and colored about a dozen by hand using ink, acrylic, and collage. I had a very good time.
After I colored my lino prints, I checked into the history just out of curiosity. I can never get very far from my love of history. And it turns out my prints have quite a back story with relevance beyond the Black Sea.
A centuries old, major commercial route, the Don River in Russia ends at the port of Azov (also called Tana) on the northern part of the Black Sea known as the Sea of Azov. For many centuries before 1900, the principal export through the port of Azov was live merchandise supplied by Cossacks.
Cossacks captured their live merchandise by harvesting the steppe.
Harvesting the steppe? This was raiding the peasants of the steppe between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia for people to sell to the rich eastern Mediterranean, especially to the Ottomans. But it wasn’t just Cossacks in this kind of business.
If you know anything about the Atlantic slave trade, you’ll recognize this business model. Harvesting the steppe for live merchandise was exactly the kind of raiding that delivered millions of hapless African peasants into the Atlantic slave trade, where ports along the west coast of Africa played the part of Azov/Tana with the Atlantic Ocean as the Black Sea.
In November-December 2008 Nell Painter created a series of paintings inspired by Brooklyn photographs by Lucille Fornasieri-Gold in the Brooklyn Historical Society. Here are four from that series, ink and gouache on paper, all 22" x 30".
NJTV video interviews include Nell Painter and shows her work. NJTV visits Emerge 11, an exhibit of 21 artists at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, in downtown Newark, New Jersey. Emerge is a group art show and also a professional development program for artists. NJTV spoke with the founding directior and five of the Emerge 11 artists, including Nell Painter. (Published on Oct 23, 2014)
Nell's interview is from 4:52 to 6:17 in the video.
Nell Painter is mentioned in a review of the Emerge 11 group show in the Star-Ledger newspaper (Art Review: Emerge 11 at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, in Newark). Here is an excerpt from that review, discussing Nell's work:
"I think there's a lot of heart in this show," says Jorge Rojas, the independent curator who organized "Emerge 11," though he didn't choose the artists. The show is one of the rewards for acceptance into the program. "There's a lot of handwork. Most of the artists are younger than I am, but there's also Nell Painter. She had a distinguished career as a historian at Princeton University, concentrating in 19th century Southern American history, and then she decided to pursue a career in art, and went through the Rhode Island School of Design. And now she's showing these hypnotic abstractions based on an archival photograph of a dog fight in Brooklyn in the 1970s. You can still see the dogs, but they're like a memory buried in the picture."
Nell received a BFA degree in painting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers-the State University of New Jersey in May 2009 (while she was actually serving as a visiting professor at the University of Rome Tre). As the Virtual Artist in Residence of the Creative Research Center of Montclair State University in New Jersey, her work can be seen at http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch/index.html.