Features: Phoebe Wolfskill / The Art Bulletin

Caricature and the New Negro in the Work of Archibald Motley Jr. and Palmer Hayden

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While stereotypical figures abound hi American art of the 1920s and 1930s, the exaggerated smiles, bright red lips, and bulging eyes found on key figures in works such as Modey's The Liar (1936, Fig. 7), Carnival (1937), and Lawd, Mah Man's Leavin' (1940, Fig. 3) and Hayden's Nous quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris) (ca. 1930, Fig. 13), Midsummer Nightin Harlem (Fig. 2) and his original version of The Janitor Who Paints (Fig. 1 ) produce puzzlement and curiosity.5 In dialogue with artistic and literary principles arising among black artists during the Negro Renaissance and Great Depression, Modey and Hayden used the canvas to explore the fundamental place of black people in American life and culture. [...] Modey described the subversion of harmful stereotypes of African Americans as the central objective of his artistic career.

In his 1943 landmark study of African-American art, Howard University art scholar James Porter denounced two wellknown Harlem scenes by Negro Renaissance artist Palmer Hayden.1 In reference to Hayden's Thefanitor Who Paints (ca. 1930, Fig. I)2 and Midsummer Night in Harlem (1936, Fig. 2), Porter wrote:

Lately [Hayden] has tried to paint satirical pictures of Negro life in Harlem, and in these, including the one entitled "The Janitor Who Paints," we see a talent gone far astray. Not only are the forms in these works confused, but the application of the humor is ill-advised, if not altogether tasteless. His "Midsummer Night in Harlem" is like one of those ludicrous billboards that once were plastered on public buildings to advertise the black-face minstrels.3

Recent scholars have located a related tendency in compositions by Hayden's Chicago contemporary Archibald Modey Jr. Art historian Amy Mooney found the standard figures in Motley's paintings similarly jarring: "Rendered in a kind of shorthand, they have the bulging eyes and enlarged lips of minstrel figures. . . . Their appearance, over and over, in Motley's genre paintings is disturbing and difficult to dismiss."4

As principal artists of the Negro Renaissance and significant contributors to Depression-era representation, Modey and Hayden sought to capture the activities and personalities of both black folk culture, generally of rural Southern origin, and Northern urbanites. Motley's modernist aesthetic, which combines spatial distortion, highly stylized figuration, and colors of neon intensity, is distinct from Hayden's, who developed more of a "folk" vocabulary of muted tones and abbreviated spatial depth. Despite such stylistic dissimilarities, these artists shared the aforementioned formal trait: they frequendy rendered black figures in a manner that recalled racial caricature, a long-standing form of popular representation aimed to demean black people both mentally and physically. While stereotypical figures abound hi American art of the 1920s and 1930s, the exaggerated smiles, bright red lips, and bulging eyes found on key figures in works such as Modey's The Liar (1936, Fig. 7), Carnival (1937), and Lawd, Mah Man's Leavin' (1940, Fig. 3) and Hayden's Nous quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris) (ca. 1930, Fig. 13), Midsummer Nightin Harlem (Fig. 2) and his original version of The Janitor Who Paints (Fig. 1 ) produce puzzlement and curiosity.5

In dialogue with artistic and literary principles arising among black artists during the Negro Renaissance and Great Depression, Modey and Hayden used the canvas to explore the fundamental place of black people in American life and culture. As Modey said, "The Negro is part of America and the Negro is part of our great American art."6 Hayden captured various elements of black folk and urban culture in his paintings; he aspired, in his words, "To devote my life and art to works which immortalize the Negro."7 Neither artist acknowledged their caricaturing of blacks or viewed their work as derogatory in any way. In fact, Modey described the subversion of harmful stereotypes of African Americans as the central objective of his artistic career. The artist wrote that he sought to remedy the common caricatures of what he termed "the ignorant Southern 'darky* " by painting "honest" images of African Americans.8 Hayden expressed a need for more varied representations of African-American people, claiming, "I don't like the way white painters [paint blacks]. I don't think they see exactly all of the differences that there are in the Negro or black people."9 Considering their avowed desire to complicate and transform visual articulations of black Americans, why did Modey and Hayden adopt the formal techniques of degrading popular stereotypes?

Exploring the appearance of black stereotypes in AfricanAmerican art, Kobena Mercer observed, "All art answers to models, precedents and exemplars, but the historical contexts in which black artists made their individual choices were over-determined by the social construction of blackness as a sign of otherness within the visual culture of the West."10 While Mercer focuses on artists emerging in the 1970s who embraced black caricature specifically to subvert it," Modey and Hayden painted during a time when images of African Americans were just beginning to receive serious révaluation. Modey and Hayden assumed the challenge of visualizing a "New Negro" when conceptions of this figure were still very much under negotiation and dispute. Black and white scholars, writers, critics, and artists debated the most suitable means of portraying the New Negro, but no agreed-on rides or guidelines existed for constructing this character.12

Art criricism of the 1920s and 1930s, period and later examinations of racial stereotype, examples of humor and stereotype in Western art, and statements made by Motiey and Hayden here furnish the context in which these artists made their aesthetic choices. We generally associate racial stereotype and caricature with problematic articulations of "difference," a discussion complicated by the fact that these two artists targeted a racial categorization, known at the time as "Negro," to which they bodi belonged. An analysis of several key works by Modey and Hayden reveals diat their formal devices were accordingly more complex and layered than often assumed. Nevertheless, their work raises concerns about the unconscious acceptance of racial stereotype and its influence on self-perception. In embracing the culture diat surrounded them, a culture infatuated with ideas about ancestralism, primitivism, and racialism and that reinforced stereotypical ideas about black identity, Modey and Hayden adopted artistic vocabularies engaged with new ideas about race and representation as well as long-established constructions of blackness. Hoping to reach a broad public audience through a readable and familiar form of visual language, these two artists perhaps sought to escape the harsh realities of the Depression by devising lighthearted narratives focused on everyday human foibles. Although Modey and Hayden employed a variety of Western and non-Western artistic techniques in portraying black people, their work demonstrates the thfficulty and perhaps impossibility of constructing a completely "New" Negro detached from popular tropes of blackness.

The New Negro and Public Art in the 1930s

The 1930s witnessed an American "renaissance" in which artists both black and white sought to develop an "authentic" American art thvorced from European standards that reflected the country's unique character. In A. Joan Saab's words, a "desacralization of art" took place in which painting and sculpture were no longer isolated in the elite repositories of the gallery or museum.1 ? Constructed for public consumption, compositions were deemed successful if widely legible and evocative of the "American scene," a term that loosely embothed the pictorial exploration of American life and subjects.

The same forces that loosened the boundaries of art opened it to black artists, as Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson noted in their 1993 publication A History of African-American Artists: "Paradoxically, it was during the Great Depression of the 1930s that significant numbers of AfricanAmerican artists were able to work at their art full time for the first time, through the government work-relief art projects." The Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed black artists and allotted them the same wage as dieir white contemporaries; not only did this legitimate blacks as professional artists, which they had rarely been considered before, it also provided for their artistic training and development.15 Many important African-American artists employed as muralists, easel painters, sculptors, and prin tmakers accepted the task of defining or celebrating racial and national identity. Besides presenting a more expansive picture of the "American scene," their work also underscored the diversity of conceptions of black identity during this period.16

Motley's employment on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in 1934 and the easel and mural divisions of the Works Progress Administration's Illinois Art Project from 1935 until at least 1941 afforded him the financial means to devote his time entirely to painting, a freedom he seldom enjoyed previously.17 Government funding supported Hayden's work through much of the 1930s; the PWAP employed Hayden from approximately January through April 1934, m and the artist worked on the easel division of the FAP in New York from 1935 until 1940.19 The impetus behind die formation of the FAP was to create a body of art that would be readily legible in its reflection of American life and culture. As a result, American art in the 1930s witnessed an excep- tional amount of public attention and critique. Artists such as Modey and Hayden developed their work with the under- standing that a broad American public would view it; dieir compositions constitute a meditation on the means of por- traying African-American people and cultures within this con- text. As government art programs encouraged black artists to develop their craft,20 art critics and scholars fostered debates on die role of black artists id American culture, and whether or not black art would or could be unique in subject and form.

Coming out of the Negro Renaissance, and still very much engaged with the challenges it presented in constructing visual articulations of the New Negro, African-American artists responded to Depression-era concerns by inserting tile black American into discourses of cultural nationalism. Painters and sculptors evolved various approaches to portraying the New Negro. One direction, seen in portraits by artists such as Modey, Augusta Savage, and Malvin Gray Johnson, offered nuanced and sensitive studies of individuals. Another, more prominent choice involved building character types diat would allow for easy readability. Such realistic modes of representation and stereotypical figuration dominated the visual culture of the period. Whether depicting rural farmers or urban dwellers, artists rendered readily legible stock characters. Describing this trend, historian Barbara Melosh evaluates the "vocabulary of gender" that communicated the ideologies at work in public art.21 Clearly decipherable vocabularies of race and class emerged as well and spoke of a desire to communicate the social and cultural plurality of American life. Criticism of this kind of stereotypical figuration appeared occasionally, most notably, in Stuart Davis's scathing critique of Thomas Hart Benton's 1932 murals from The Arts of Life in America for the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which depicted, in Davis *s opinion, a "Jew in vicious caricature" and "caricatures of crap shooting and barefoot shuffling negroes"22 and in Porter's remarks on Hayden's "tasteless" figuration. Nonedieless, stereotypes, even those reminiscent of caricature, were acceptable and expected. Indeed, period criticism rarely mentioned the use of caricature in compositions by Modey and Hayden.

The New Negro took a variety of stereotypical forms, ranging from a heroic Africanized abstraction to an ordinary urban resident or cardsharp. While Motley and Hayden sought to celebrate the New Negro, they did not adopt the heroic images of blacks that populated the work of many of their peers.23 Thus, James Lesesne Wells's stoic and idealized image of the "Negro Wage Earner" (1930, Fig. 4), Sargent Johnson's formidable black mother in Forever Free (1933, Fig. 5), and the iconic black figures of Aaron Douglas's Noah's Ark (1936) filled an important place in modern imaginings of black Americans. At the same time, the New Negro appears in other, perhaps less glorious, stereotypes, such as Modey's comic poolroom patrons in The Liar and Hayden's absurdly grinning black community in Midsummer Night in Harlem (Figs. 7, 2). Among the many black artists who sought to create new images of African Americans, some avoided constructing what might be seen as one-dimensional heroic figures for fear of, in Henry Louis Gates Jr. 's words, "err[ing] on the side of nobility."24 Preferring to portray a flawed and sometimes laughable black figure, artists like Motley and Hayden demonstrated the paucity of existing models from which to develop this character.

The diverse group of artists that contributed to the Negro Renaissance came from various geographic and academic backgrounds, held widely divergent points of view, grappled with different means of defining racial and national identity during the Renaissance and the Depression, and consequendy never arrived at an agreed-on aesthetic. Although Gates has written of the period as containing "two antithetical images of African Americans . . . the 'New Negro' and his doppelganger, the black Sambo,"25 images of this "new" African-American figure in the work of Modey and Hayden fell somewhere between a heroic ideal and a comic caricature.

Even as Negro Renaissance artists were embracing a new psychology and a new way of thinking about racial identity and visual expression, ties to older forms of representation, even those considered harmful, remained in both visual and literary formats. Art historian Richard J. Powell notes that stereotypical or questionable articulations of black identity entered the work of many African-American artists and performers of the period. Referencing Hayden's figurative techniques, Powell observes the "discomforting resemblance to nineteenth-century racist black imagery," and we also find this portrayal of black identity in literature by Zora Neale Hurston and in the capers of performers such as Louis Armstrong and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Powell concludes, "This tendency towards a humorous and expressionistic image of black culture was a terrain that many of the more radical artists were willing to enter in order to infuse their art with the totemic allure of 'the folk.' "2
Negro Art and Stereotype in Period Criticism

The topic of the offensive misrepresentation and caricaturing of African Americans frequendy entered black scholars' discussions in the 1920s and 1930s. W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and James Porter voiced the need to rectify the damage caused by derogatory images through new forms of literary and visual representation. In February 1926, Du Bois began a symposium entided "The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed" within the pages of the Cm«, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to address the ways in which African Americans might be depicted in the arts. Focusing on the literary arts but conveying ideas that pertain to the visual arts as well, Du Bois raised significant questions related to race and stereotype. Many of his respondents, including Langston Hughes, Walter White, Sinclair Lewis, and Sherwood Anderson, called for artistic freedom and emphasized quality of expression over specific content.2 Poet Countee Cullen, however, advocated undermining rather dian pursuing disreputable portrayals of blacks, pointing out, "What would be taken as a type in other literatures is, where it touches us, seized upon as representative."28 Du Bois published the ongoing debate and then asserted his opinion in his essay "Criteria of Negro Art," published in the Crisis in October 1926. Insisting that art must uplift the race by generating positive propaganda, Du Bois complained of white publishers' demands for "Uncle Toms, Topsies, good 'darkies,' and clowns," and encouraged black artists to counter this debasement with "the creation of beauty" and the pursuit of "truth" "as the one great vehicle of understanding."29 These insights, he wrote, would ultimately bring positive propaganda for the race and the recognition of black humanity.30 Thus, while some artists felt that the prohibition of certain kinds of black characters limited the freedom of artistic expression, others believed that depictions of a humorous or stereotypical black character are inherendy harmful because of their affirmation of mainstream conceptions of Negro identity.31

Locke, preeminent scholar of the Harlem Renaissance, condemned racial stereotypes and believed wholeheartedly in the ability of the arts to change negative perceptions about blacks, initially supporting tiie development of a separate "racial idiom,"32 in his essays of the 1930s he stressed the importance of African-American participation in a larger national culture. In his publication Negro Art: Past and Present of 1936, Locke declared diat expressions of black people as people and not as "others" could allow for self-affirmation among African-American populations and help to unravel the larger American public's prejudices against blacks:

There is a double duty and function to Negro art - and by that we mean the proper development of the Negro subject as an artistic theme - the role of interpreting the Negro in the American scene to America at large is important, but more important still is the interpretation of the Negro to himself. Frankness compels the admission and constructive self-criticism dictates the wisdom of pointing out that the Negro's own conception of himself has been warped by prejudice and the common American stereotypes. To these there is no better or (more) effective antidote than a more representative Negro art of wider range and deeper penetration.33

Locke believed that both black and white artists could produce and promote more sensitive images of African Americans that would challenge negative stereotypes. Besides devoting attention to past and recent African-American artists in his writings of the 1930s, he praised the interpretations of black culture in the work of nonblack artists, including Winslow Homer, Reginald Marsh, Paul Cadmus, and thego Rivera.34 Central to Locke's message was his concern for black self-image and the damage that racial stereotypes might cause.

Opinions varied as to what constituted derogatory stereotypes, however. Locke did not locate harmful caricature in work by Modey and Hayden. He eagerly followed Modey's exhibitions in the 1920s and applauded the artist's increasingly modernist aesthedc as a "promising departure" from his more tradidonal portraiture.35 After Modey returned from a year-long stay in Paris in 1930, Locke noted diat the artist seemed "more and more fascinated by the grotesqueries and oddities of Negro life, which he sometimes satirically, sometimes sympathetically, depicts. His style, once curiously restrained, is now highly imaginative, free in rhythm, riotous in color, a combination of Dutch realism with American humor and tempo."30 Despite Locke's description of elements in Modey's genre scenes as "grotesque" and "satirical," he does not characterize them as caricature, and he expresses his approval of the artist's innovative style. Open to stylistic experimentation and considerably more encouraging of modernist techniques of abstraction and distortion dian most of his black and white peers, Locke hailed Modey's promising aesthetic. And although Locke labeled Hayden a "traditionalist" in Negro Art: Past and Present, in appraising Hayden's seascapes and genre scenes, he concluded, "Not ultra-modern in style, but yet far from the purely academic, Mr. Hayden's present work proves him to be one of the soundest technicians among the younger Negro painters."37 Admiring in particular Hayden's departure from the more academic style of his seascapes during his years in Paris, Locke wrote, "In his five years abroad, Mr. Hayden's style matured considerably as shown by his exhibits in the Harmon shows. . . . Hayden has gradually extended his interests both to other subjects and a more modernistic style."38 Digging more into Hayden's "folk" or "modernistic" aestiietic in a later essay on Negro art, Locke did not ounight condemn The Janitor Who Paints or Midsummer Night in Harlem, instead pronouncing these works "vigorously naïve racial interpretations.

Porter believed that sensitively rendered images of African Americans would best undermine persisting racial stereotypes. Bemoaning what he viewed as Locke's "segregationist" appeal for a racial art, Porter promoted new visions of African Americans that would challenge common and existing modes of representation.40 In his 1943 text Modern Negro Art, he explained, "All valuable exploration of Negro life results in the discoveiy of 'real' types and obligates the artist to avoid those stereotypes that for years have been palmed off as portrayals of Negro character."41 Encouraging artistic master)' of form and the study of everyday experiences, Porter described the true artist as one "impressed with the richness and the variety of life and the urgency of the material problems that they must solve."42 According to Porter, artists who expressed universal themes in their articulations of African Americans could best connect people of multiple racial heritages and cultural persuasions and dius create a valuable and enduring art form.

Although critical of Hayden's use of color in some of his seascapes, Porter generally praised these scenes as evidence of the ardst's technical facility, even as his unforgivably distorted janitor and street scene spoke of "talent gone far astray" and "black-face minstrels."43 Other than Porter, very few period critics referenced the artist's proclivity for caricature. In a review of 1934, Rose Henderson of Hampton University's journal the Southern Workman apparendy did not interpret the figuration in The janitor WIw Paints as offensive: "Palmer Hayden turned from his popular marines to a cleverly humorous watercolor, 'The Janitor Who Paints.' The basement background, the self-conscious model, and the laborious expression are convincingly portrayed."44 Describing the work as "cleverly humorous" and "convincingly portrayed" suggests that Henderson perceived in Hayden's work bodi a satirical impulse and a sincere regard for his subjects.

Interestingly, Porter did not observe caricature in Motley's work. Aldiough less open to modernist techniques than Locke, he described Modey's genre scenes as evidence of the artist's genuine interest in urban black communities: "Motley's preference for the wanton and the gross in Negro life is basically sincere; his interpretation of the swaggering, picaresque humor of the scenes has virtually no intent to caricature. This is proved by his portraits, which are straightforward and simple recordings of personality."45 For Porter, Motley's elegant portraits confirmed his sensi dvity in depicting African-American people. Even when Porter specifically referred to genre scenes by Modey, including The Liar (1936, Fig. 7), in his assessment, he did not reflect on the elements of caricature in this work.46

The desire expressed by scholars such as Du Bois, Locke, and Porter to undermine black stereotypes coexisted with a mainstream art criticism that generally encouraged and reinforced stereotypes of African Americans. Reviewing the 1941 Negro art exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in New York, a writer for the Art Digest claimed,

The American Negro has at last spoken in art - firmly and distinctively, his voice having as definite an intonation with colors as his soul has in singing and dancing. His choice of dazzling colors is just as typical as his exaggerating sense of humor, his strut and guffaw; his concern with the burdened just as characteristic as his pleading songs to his Maker.47

Presented as a positive perspective on black identity, stereotypical ideas about black artists' penchant for bright colors, rhythmic design, and humorous narratives filled articles and reviews in Harmon Foundation catalogs48 and mainstream newspapers and journals, including the New York Times, Art Digest, and the American Magazine of Art. These reviews, generally delimiting in their historicization and analyses, largely dictated the ways in which Negro art was interpreted and valued, and they rarely gave black artists the same kind of in-depth historical and formal analysis as their white contemporaries. Behind their opinions, art historian Mary Ann Calo found,

A priori assumptions about amateurism, primitivism, authenticity, and racial uniqueness effectively delimited the expressive field of black artists by creating a concrete set of expectations: authentic Negro art would be primitive because it was the product of amateurs or individuals predisposed to the primitive by virtue of their unique racial heritage; such authenticity and uniqueness should be manifest in both the form and content of Negro art.49

Unlike mainstream journals, which emphasized Modey's work as a laborer and his financial and social struggles to succeed as an artist - and, as art historian John Ott pointed out, "reiterated Hayden's marginality despite his burgeoning artistic record""0 - the black press tended to underscore the professionalism of black artists. Art reviews in the Southern Workman offered poignant and perhaps more objective criticism than many of the mainstream journals. Instead of stressing an ardst's modest background, experience as a manual laborer, or assumed amateurism, writers for this periodical took pains to detail die credentials of individual artists. Even as the journal enumerated individual struggles for artistic success, writers emphasized academic training and development. George E. Haynes, for example, referred to Modey's four years of study under Karl Buehr at die Art Institute of Chicago,51 and Evelyn S. Brown mentioned Hayden's correspondence courses, his attendance of summer school at Columbia University, New York, his study with Victor Perard of Cooper Union, New York, and his experiences at die Boothbay Art Colony in Maine.52

Critics and scholars set forth overlapping but often conflicting ideas about Negro art and the proper course it should take. Black artists were faced with a multitude of opinions about inherent versus learned skills, the appropriate means of representing black cultures, and the style and subjects most relevant to black artists. These discourses framed die ways in which Negro art was understood but also influenced the ways in which black artists approached their own work and viewed themselves as artists. Did they seek to present themselves as uniquely "Negro," developing an aesdietic independent from the cultural mainstream, or as significant contributors to a larger and inclusive American culture?

The validity of a separate racial aesthetic, removed from the white mainstream, formed the background for discussions of race and art during this period. While Locke encouraged the cultivation of a racial idiom, he avoided the racial essentialism common to much criticism of African-American work, and by the 1930s, he had shifted his focus from racial uniqueness to the importance of black participation in a larger national culture. And when mainstream critics called for a distinctive expression of race, they reflected on the difficulties of actually inventing a separate Negro aesthetic. A critic for the Cleveland Press reviewing the 1929 Harmon Foundation exhibition typifies disappointment over die search for a racial paradigm:

A series of emotions was evoked by the exhibit. First, surprise at the high quality of the work. Second, disappointment it was so much like the work of white artists. Third, realization that this was to be expected from men and women, born and raised in modern America, trained by white artists among white artists, and as far removed in most cases from die race experiences of Africa and slavery as other American artists are from their European ancestors.53

Although Motley and Hayden sought black subjects for their work, they located tiiemselves within a mainstream rather than an exclusionary artistic culture; both artists sought to produce important art irrespective of race and communicable to a broad American authence.5,1

Caricature and Class in Motley's Work

Archibald Modey Jr. graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1918 with a particular interest in portraiture. In Mending Socks (1924, Fig. 6), Motley sensitively articulated the individuality and personal history of his paternal grandmother by using symbols that reference her mixed ancestry, slave history, middle-class lifestyle, and religious convictions.55 The artist soon realized, however, that portraiture was less salable than his genre scenes.56 By the 1930s, Motley was producing mosdy genre scenes of African Americans enjoying cabarets, pool halls, picnics, or just passing through the streets of "Bronzeville," the assorted AfricanAmerican neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side.57 In July 1930, Modey returned from a year in Paris as a Guggenheim Fellow with a heightened ability to captine the modern city and its inhabitants.58 Aldiough the artist did not specifically state any interest in twentieth-century European modernism in the diary he kept in Paris or in interviews or essays, his year abroad clearly influenced his formal techniques.59 Assimilating elements of Impressionist subject matter, Fauvist and Expressionist color, and a Cubist articulation of space, Motley's genre scenes of the 1930s introduced what would become his distinctive techniques of condensing space, distorting perspective, and intensifying color in order to accentuate the intoxicating pulse of modern American life.60

Alongside his attention to the formalist innovations of modernism, Modey absorbed various elements of Western popular culture that are reflected in his choice of subjects and style. His deployment of colors of neon intensity, the dramatic lighting, theatrical narrative, and close-ups of Hollywood film, and the exaggerated techniques of racial caricature all speak of an artist carefully attuned to visual culture. Modey's WPA painting The Liar, a humorous narrative about the clashing of personalities in a pool hall in Bronzeville, offers a prominent example of his use of caricature.

The Liar (Fig. 7) belongs to a series of paintings from the 1930s, including Sharks (1930), The Plotters (1933), and Boys in the Back Room (1934), that focus on the clandestine activities of men assembled in smoke-filled, densely packed spaces. On the left side of The Liar, a jovial character smiles and gestures as he narrates his story to a skeptical authence. A young collaborator to his tale leans against a chair and grins at the two gendemen across the table. The listeners on the right, through their poses and their serious expressions, express their uncertainty about the unfolding story; unsmiling, one man cups his ear with his hand and nonchalandy lights his cigarette while the other folds his arms.61 In his treatment of the two groups, Modey establishes a clear contrast between them. The storyteller's bright red lips, wide eyes, rounded face, and inflated gestures, along with his ignorance of a cigar on the table about to burn his knee, categorize him as a ridiculous oaf. The grinning young man standing beside him has similarly exaggerated features. Modey delineates the storyteller's authence with more handsomely portrayed, though still stylized, faces; their carefully demarcated and sensitively hued full lips and piercing eyes clearly distinguish them from their more simplistically rendered counterparts. Their stylish suits and ties also contrast with the more casual attire of the left-hand pair.

Modey perhaps distinguishes between these two pairs in order to establish a difference in die background or social class of the characters. Art historians Jontyle Theresa Robin- son and Wendy Greenhouse speculate that the painting por- trays friction between Bronzeville locals and recent Soutiiern migrants to Chicago: "Motley may be suggesting that the liar is a recent arrival to the Northern metropolis, whose sophis- ticates meet his friendly loquacity with big-city cynicism."62 Modey's possible lampooning of Southern migrants may re- late to his self-awareness as a middle-class "Old Settler"63 whose family landed in Chicago in 1 894, well before die tide of black migrants that began arriving before World War I. Amy Mooney has discussed Modey's sensitivity to the mark- ings of social class - skin color, clothing, and accessories- -in his poruaits of women of mixed-raced ancestry in works such as The Octoroon Girl (1925) and A Mulatress (1924).64 Modey's city scenes frequendy portray interaction between people of different classes, backgrounds, skin color, ages, and occupa- tions. Through careful representation of cLothing, appear- ance, and behavior, Modey demarcates his figures' likely occupation, or lack thereof, and their social standing in Bronzeville. The artist demonstrates a particular interest in Southern cultures in Tongues (The Holy Rollers) (1929), show- ing a Southern Evangelical congregation, and the migration of Soudiern religious practices to Chicago in Saturday Night Street Scene (probably originally tided Gettin' Religion, 1936) and Getting Religion (1948), in which gospel singers and storefront preachers command the street. A Cadiolic, Modey may have found these demonstrative religious traditions unusual, even exotic, which he expressed through distorted features and exaggerated gestures. Likewise, stereotypical characters abound in Laiod, Mah Man's Leavin' (1940, Fig. 3), a rural Southern scene in which a full-bothed black "mammy" laments her man's departure from their home in search of new and better prospects in the North, while a lazy farmhand snoozes in the background.65

Locating humor in Southern behaviors speaks to class distinctions and group hierarchies and the frequent discord between established Northern blacks and unassimilated new arrivals from the South.66 Palmer Hayden takes up this subject in his Just Back from Washington (1938), which uses caricature to satirize a grinning black man of rural roots attempting to adopt the clothing and lifestyle of a stylish urbanite Modey's and Hayden's Harlem contemporary Jacob Lawrence, whose parents migrated North from South Carolina and Virginia, addressed these migratory difficulties with all seriousness in panel 53 of his Migration of the Negro series (1940-41), which carries the accompanying caption, "The Negroes who had been Nordi for quite some time met their fellowmen with disgust and aloofness." Whereas Lawrence underscores the conceit of the Norrhern sophisticates. Motley and Hayden used techniques of caricature to satirize Southern naïveté within the context of African-American class structures.

In his discussion of laughter as a social phenomenon, French philosopher Henri Bergson presented laughter as a corrective gesture, suggesting that a chuckle from one's social better encourages the modification of one's behavior. Bergson's idea that "A comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance of himself"1'7 - that a person who sparks a humorous reaction demonstrates ignorance or naïveté about his laughable qualities - characterizes Motley's treatment of laughter in The Liar. Here, the distanced viewer, like the artist, observes, judges, and laughs. Our tacit inclusion at the table allows us to adopt Modey's corrective and superior stance, one replicated in our visual proxy, the visorwearing manager who takes his eyes off the billiard game to enjoy the interaction taking place at the table. In this work, caricature does not distinguish black and white or exclusively lampoon blackness, as it has historically, but instead sets up a contrast between black identities. Motley furthermore renders black stereotypes as culturally specific rather than an embodiment of essential racial characteristics; the cultural norms of the Northern urbanités vary from those of the Southern greenhorn. Motley's figurative exaggeration would have been particularly readable by an American public versed in mainstream popular images of blacks and perhaps conveys the artist's desire to cater to that authence.

More than simply a narrative about a Chicago pool hall, The Liar also draws attention to the fundamental attributes of painting itself and a painting's inherent ability to distort, manipulate, and transform. Indeed, Modey used a variety of techniques to prove that this work is not about verisimilitude but about artistic imagination. For one, the setting of The Liar looks as topsy-turvy as the characters contained within it. Motley suspended the properties of proportion and gravity; instead of organizing the image in terms of a perspectival grid, he tilted the background pool table at an impossible angle, allowing the viewer to see almost its entire surface. The spatial distortion of the image serves as a metaphor for its protagonist's dubious tale, but it also draws attention to the image's lack of naturalism as a whole. Modey's simplified and caricatured figures look as artificial as the setting in which they appear. Although the artist contrasts two types of figures, both groups, with their highly simplified features and brighdy hued skin tones, appear equally unreal. Motley composed their complexions using a mixture of deep orange, red, and purple pigments instead of shades of brown.08 Here, as with many Modey canvases, the viewer becomes aware of the surface of the composition and the artist's particular techniques of paint handling and organization; the artificial brightness and deep opacity of the shades of paint along with the artist's careful balancing of geometric forms seem to function as subjects in themselves.

As Powell has proposed, perhaps Modey's title, The Liar, refers not only to the storyteller in the composition but also to the artist himself as a creator and manipulator of images.09 Like the storyteller in the painting, Motley dictates a narrative that reads as blatandy specious, its characters embodying distorted or simplified types rather than actual people. The composition pushes the viewer to consider the artifice of picture making - or any form of representation. And although the grinning Sambo or Zip Coon caricatures were intended to debase blacks, Modey's assimilation of this imagery produces new, personalized narratives; his use of caricature in this work yields a more complicated assessment of Bronzeville's population, illuminating multiple "New Negroes," as the composition allows us to meditate on the class dynamics that these figures illustrate. The artist implies that recognized and satirical forms of representation could be reworked to express a conflict of "New Negro" identities without seeming to ponder the ways in which this might reinforce the stereotypes he sought to undermine. Moreover, the composition yields a glimpse of the conflicting influences and impulses facing the black artist during this period. As few representational models existed for portraying black humor, Motley relied on accessible tropes well established in the history of visual culture.

Caricature and Humor in Visual Culture

By using exaggeration and distortion to convey the laughable foibles of humankind. Motley participates in a long-standing tradition in the history of art. One of the most celebrated satirists in Western art, eighteenth-century British painter and printmaker William Hogarth used his work to denounce excesses of the British aristocracy and what he believed to be the corruption that comes with wealth. With keen attention to facial features, clothing, and gesture, the artist articulated the trappings of class, the respective privileges or burdens of race, and the upholding or disregard of social etiquette. Hogardi communicates his figures' disposition, according to Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal, "by the way in which the bodies are marked or made up, dressed or undressed, and how they set themselves in dialogue with one another and with objects through poses, gestures, glances, and even the suggestion of sound (chatting, singing, sipping, and snoring)."70

Hogarth's Matriage a la Mode (The Toilette), plate 4 (1743), tells the story of a woman of bourgeois origin who has married into the aristocracy (Fig. 8). Her ownership of foreign ornaments, knickknacks, and two African slaves, one serving chocolate and the other functioning as her "pet," along with the suggestion of her impending adultery with the lawyer Silvertongue, who lures her with tickets to a masquerade, speaks of her wealth and decadence.71 Hogarth stressed the immoderation of her new lifestyle by exaggerating the affectations of the company she keeps: gaping mouths, grimaces, and upturned noses define die castrato singer Senesino and his self-important entourage.72 The humor in Hogarth's work stems from his focus on human folly and the incongruity of his portrayal of the elite and the manner in which they are typically presented in the fine arts. In The Liar, Modey engages the Hogardiian tradition of exaggerating attributes and gestures to provoke laughter. But whereas Hogarth moralizes about the ethical failings of the aristocracy, Modey fashions a more lighthearted assessment of the uninitiated migrant; he does not condemn his storyteller so much as he finds him funny. Both artists use humor to convey a sense of middleclass values and superiority, Hogarth in his lampooning of the rich, and Motley in his mocking of the working-class newcomer.

With his pungent use of humor, exaggeration, and satire in the visual arts, Hogarth provided an important precedent for Modey's generation of artists. Often described as a modern Hogarth for his humorous and candid renderings of New York life, the painter, printmaker, and New Yorker cartoonist Reginald Marsh seized on distinctions of class in his work, generally sympathizing with the working classes and lampooning the elite.73 A contemporary of Motley and Hayden, Marsh depicted similar subjects, particularly street scenes, bawdy entertainments, and the working classes at leisure. Also like Modey and Hayden, Marsh produced both, sensitive renderings and more stereotypical images of blacks.'4 His cartoons for die New Yorker in particular convey humor through class and racial stereotypes; by distorting and exaggerating stereotypical features, the artist arrived at humorous social critiques. In a New Yorker cartoon of December 4, 1926 (Fig. 9), Marsh caricatured a moneyed patron of the arts and her maid. The art collector, surrounded by various signifiers of wealth, including artworks by Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi, points to an African figure and addresses her maid: "Miranda, I thought you'd be interested in this . . . by your people, you know - such significant solidity . . . such a surface . . . how do you do it?" While underscoring die distance between African and African-American cultures at a time when many artists and collectors sought to forge dais connection, Marsh comically dismisses this trend. His emphasis on the social, economic, and physical gap between the buxom, handkerchief-wearing black domestic worker and the angular, bespectacled white woman of the elite renders these opposing figures particularly humorous. Yet even as he deploys the bulging eyes and puzzled expression of the stereotypical mammy, Marsh positions the white collector as the butt of the joke in her feeble attempt to understand the African sculpture she has acquired. As the antithesis of the elegant African Americans found in a number of Marsh's paintings, such as Harlem, Tuesday Night at the Savoy (1932, Fig. 10), the age-old mammy stereotype serves as the perfect foil for the trendy art collector. Marsh's cartoon exemplifies the ways in which stereotypical attributes and actions allowed for a lighthearted and humorous take on class and race relations.

The exaggerations and distortions found in Marsh's cartoon existed alongside more standardized and popularized forms of caricature in journals and newspapers including American Mercury, Life, the New Yorker, and Vanity Pair. Artists such as Ralph Barton, Miguel Covarrubias, and Al Hirschfeld used caricature to satirize urban life and notable artists, writers, and politicians. Mexican artist Covarrubias in particular became famous for his caricauires of racial and etiinic groups, politicians, musicians, and actors. His love of jazz music and dancing brought him to Harlem's cabarets and nightclubs, where he befriended the Harlem literati, among them Langston Hughes, Eric Walrond, and Zora Neale Hurston.75 His "Negro drawings" of Harlem nightlife appeared in the December 1924 (Fig. 11) and February 1925 editions of Vanity Fair and were later consolidated in his 1927 publication Negro Drawings. Celebrating the emergence of a fashionable "New Negro," the December 1924 issue of Vanity Fair declared, "Enter the New Negro, a Distinctive. Type Recently Created by the Coloured Cabaret Belt in New York. Exit, the Coloured Crooner of Lullabys, the Cotton-Picker, the Mammy-Singer and the Darky Banjo-Player, for so Long Over-Exploited Figures on the American Stage."76 Govarrubias portrays this "New Negro" through images equally as stereotypical as the above-named Southern caricatures, yet their urbanity and elegance render them "new" and, according to Vanity Fair, "as actual as your own next-door neighbour."77 Using vernacular slang, writer Eric Walrond supplied the captions for Covarrubias' s images; they describe stereotypical traits such as the black performer's ^'natural" inclination to dance. Covarrubias's racial types fulfilled the desires of the magazine's largely white upper-middle-class readers to view African Americans as humorous, rhythmic, and sensual.

Despite the reductive nature of Covarrubias's images, many black artists, writers, and intellectuals admired his "Negro drawings" and did not view rliem as harmfully stereotypical. Although Längsten Hughes initially expressed skepticism about having Covarrubias illustrate his Weary Blues, of the resulting image, Hughes claimed, "I liked your jacket for my book immensely, and t think it the best pictorial interpretation of my Weary Blues that I have ever seen,"78 Likewise, referring to Covarrubias's cabaret caricatures, Locke praised the artist's "clever grasp of Negro traits."79

Covarrubias's popularity and the wide visibility of his black stereotypes indicate the prevalence and general acceptance of this kind of visual articulation of the new Negro. Indeed, they have much in common with major characters in Motley's work. Covarrubias's rubber-limbed "dancing waiter" (Fig. 12), his cabaret singer and band in Rhapsody in Blue, and the cigar-smoking "Bolito King," for example, call to mind standard figures in Motley's cabaret and street scenes.80 Covarrubias and Motley both held notable solo shows of black subjects in New York in 1928. Motley did not meet with fellow black artists during the run of his exhibition, but he fondly recalled having lunch with Covarrubias and that they viewed each other's shows.81 Motley's primary focus on black subjects, however, and his particular sensitivity to class hierarchies inject a nuance of depth missing from Covarrubias's more one-dimensional cartoons. Covarrubias's "Negro drawings," like Motley's images of blacks, nonetheless communicate the broader interest in the fashionable "New Negro" and the general tolerance of the use of stereotypical formulas to render African Americans. Like figuration by Motley, Hayden, and Marsh, Covarrubias's caricatures also indicate the desire to infuse black representation with a bit of lighthearted humor.

Multiple Negro Renaissance writers took up the subject of black humor, arguing that laughter enabled African Americans to rise above impossible circumstances. In her essay "The Gift of Laugh ter, "Jessie Fauset spoke of the necessity of comedy to combat tragedy, claiming that black humor stems from "the very woes which beset us."82 In a similar vein, Du Bois wrote:

When in the calm afterday of thought and struggle to racial peace we look back to pay tribute to those who helped most, we shall single out for highest praise those who made the world laugh - Bob Cole, Ernest Hogan, George Walker and above all, Bert Williams. For this was not mere laughing: it was the smile that hovered above blood and tragedy, the light mask of happiness that hid breaking hearts and bitter souls.83

Scholars often characterize Du Bois as the conservative spokesman of the "talented tenth" (defined by Du Bois as the educated and successful 10 percent of the black population that has the leadership skills to uplift the remaining 90 percent)84 with little tolerance for irreverent images of blackness, yet his statement pays tribute to the underlying pathos of the black minstrels he names.

Du Bois reserved his highest praise for Bert Williams, an immigrant to the United States from Antigua of Danish, Spanish, and African ancestry. Williams joined the American theater when black performers were required to conform to stereotypical roles. As Ann Charters explains, "Because audiences would have ignored or hooted down a light skinned colored man presumptuous enough to perform without a heavy Southern accent, it was out of the question for a Negro to act in serious drama."85 Donning blackface, Williams developed a routine of pratfalls, mime, inflated gestures, and eye rolling. Scholars have argued that Williams's unique comedic talents and his evocative lyrics pushed the boundaries of black stereotype as they revealed the clever yet tragic individual behind the blackface mask.8'3 Deeply disturbed as he was by the racist implications of his role, Williams located a certain universality in his character; he claimed, "One of the funniest sights in the world is a man whose hat has been knocked in or ruined by being blown off- - provided, of course, it be the other fellow's hat! . . . The sight of other people in trouble is nearly always funny. This is human nature."8' For Williams, humor could transcend racial categories; a laughable or fallen character was one with whom everyone could relate.

In his study of Williams, Louis Ghude-Sokei refers to the limited constructions of blackness that were acceptable to the black intelligentsia of the early twentieth century: "During a historical moment defined by 'positive,' 'affirming,' and tightly self-con trolled images and expectations of blacks, one can imagine the threatening and liberating appeal of a black minstrel to a black authence."88 Ghude-Sokei notes the impulse to invent an image of blackness that stood apart from conservative images of black respectability, an idea that may describe Motley and Hayden's inclinations as well. Even in contemplating new ways of portraying blackness, they seemed to enjoy the residual humor of minstrelsy. Yet they, too, cultivated a more complicated image of blackness than the smiling buffoon of caricature.

Hayden, African Art, and Popular Culture

Like Motley, Palmer Hayden diversified his artistic techniques while living in Paris.80 By the early 1930s, Hayden had expanded his aesthetic vocabulary and his subjects for consideration, turning his primar)' focus from seascapes and landscapes to scenes of everyday African-American Ufe. Also like Motley, Hayden commonly constructed black figures that resembled caricature. Art historian Theresa Leininger-Miller observes that Hayden "documented contemporary African American life not only as he experienced it, but also as he saw it in the manner of popular cultural images in minstrel shows and penny postcards."90

Hayden left his hometown of Widewater, Virginia, in 1906 at the age of sixteen for Washington, D.C., and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus as a roustabout. Employed to handle the animals and circus equipment, he sketched the performers in his spare time. Recognizing his artistic talent, several of the trapeze artists, clowns, and a contortionist known as the Frog Man began paying Hayden to make publicity posters.01 Art historian Lowery Stokes Sims has remarked that the "direct, simplified, 'folk' style" common to circus advertising undoubtedly influenced Hayden's developing artistic vocabulary.92 Although Hayden did not receive an art degree, as had Motley, he learned about the practice of art making and composition through sporadic study with art instructors in New York and Paris.93 Perhaps his greatest inspiration came from the artists he befriended throughout his career, such as Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, and Beauford Delaney. Yet Hayden's lack of sustained academic training and his early work with popular imagery did not result in an "untrained" or "amateurish" aesthetic, as was often assumed.94 Art historian Regina Perry describes his style as "consciously naïve,"95 a term that acknowledges his deep engagement with issues of black representation, his knowledge of techniques of art making from multiple cultures, and his deliberate aesthetic simplifications. At first glance, Hayden's techniques may appear amateurish, but on closer examination, his methods expose his aesthetic and conceptual sophistication and suggest that a range of artistic traditions shaped his vocabulary.

Hayden's reference to the particular techniques of racial caricature seems blatant in his watercolor Nous quatre à Paris (ca. 1930, Fig. 13), an image of black patrons with simplified features and exaggerated pink lips playing cards and billiards at a café in Paris. His figuration references multiple visual sources within and outside popular culture, however. Hayden recalled that he and his friends enjoyed playing cards in Paris.96 Woodruff, Hayden's colleague and close friend, also explored this subject, in his work The Card Players (1930, Fig. 14). Like Hayden, Woodruff lived and worked in Paris and became knowledgeable about European modernism and African arts. His Card Players offers a Cubist interpretation of Paul Cezanne's 1890-95 work of the same title (Fig. 15). At the same time that Woodruffs work explores Cubist formalist distortion, it alludes to what he called the "Negro colony," a group of black artists and writers that sought fresh surroundings and experiences in the more racially tolerant environment of Paris. While the artist based his composition on Cezanne's work,97 his particular method of figuration combines Cubist distortion with a direct reference to West African sculpture, forming, as Judith Wilson has described it, "a triumphant synthesis of African art and European modernism."98 Woodruffs quotation of African sculpture functions as more than a modernist technique; it directly evokes the black identity of his subjects by referencing their African heritage.

In Nous quatre à Paris, Hayden, like Woodruff, takes black cardplayers in Paris as his subject, but he quotes past art in a more tongue-in-cheek manner that clearly reflects his desire to play with representation and, in particular, a variety of techniques, whether heroic or cartoonist!, used in defining black features. In this work, die artist presents himself, Countee Cullen, Ernest Dupré,99 and Woodruff with exaggerated and stylized features.100 The four men glance away from their cards to display their simplified profiles; in doing so, they recall die flat silhouettes and slit eyes of Aaron Douglas's epic black characters.101 Douglas was one of the foremost Renaissance artists to develop a personal aesthetic tied to his African heritage, finding inspiration in the flattened profiles of Egyptian wall paintings and the angular, incised eyes common to the Dan masks of the Ivory Coast.102

Aside from his evocation of Douglas's work and Douglas's particular interests in African art, Hayden also directly references African sculpture, which he would have viewed while visiting Locke, who researched and collected African art in France, or attending any of several exhibitions of African art in Paris.103 Although the inflated lips that Hayden conferred on the figures in Nous quatre à Paris readily recall racial caricature, the image as a whole is more iconographically complex than one might assume. It actually constitutes a humorous parody of multiple artists' and cultures' methods of representation. In composing this work, Hayden, like Douglas and Woodruff, conducted a close study of African art. As Sims has noted, the narrow eyes and full lips of Hayden's characters closely resemble the features of Makonde helmets from East Africa (Fig. 16).104 The figures' proximity to both racial caricature and East African sculpture points to the artist's critical awareness of multiple cultures' significations of those features specifically regarded as African or "black."

The watercolor appears to show that Hayden was cognizant of and intentionally engaged with many forms of representation, including past and recent European and American art, African art, the work of his black peers, and popular imagery. Indeed, this composition employs methods beyond caricature; it indicates Hayden's meditation on a variety of culturally specific methods of depicting people of African origin. With this combination of references, Hayden signaled that his work goes beyond a simple comment on the black colony in Paris: it is an image about black representation. Here, at the formalist level, he demonstrated that the exaggerations found in African art could be easily confused with the distortions of popular racial caricature. By mining multiple forms of black representation, Hayden created a humorous commentary on the "appropriate" means of constructing the "New Negro," suggesting that the African heritage so honored by Locke, Douglas, and others employed distortions similar to those found in white-dominated visual culture, even as they presented decidedly different meanings. As he mined the modernist distortions of African art, Hayden extended it to a broader discourse on African-American representation. In both cases, black features are exaggerated; they serve ceremonial, religious, and commemorative purposes in the African context, and act as mechanisms of control and abuse in the Western context. Like Motley, Hayden was unafraid to delve into more controversial forms of racial representation in order to pose questions about the "appropriate" means of portraying blacks within a humorous narrative. Constructing "New Negroes" in a lighthearted and comical manner rather than rendering them as unambiguous ideals, Hayden perhaps used these caricatured forms to undermine the high-minded seriousness of much of the black intelligentsia.

Despite his claim that African art had "no meaning to we Americans,"105 Hayden incorporated African arts into several of his compositions, perhaps most overtly in his still life Fetiche et fleurs (Fetish and Flowers, ca. 1931-32, Fig. 17), which includes a Fang head from Gabon and a Kuba textile from the Congo. The rounded head with pursed lips of the Fang mask in the composition resembles the head of the janitor in Hayden's original rendition of The Janitor Who Paints (ca. 1930, Fig. 1), which, as mentioned above, was denounced by James Porter as evidence of "talent gone far astray."106 Hayden responded to criticism by revising the painting to its current state (ca. 1940s, Fig. 18).107 As the work was still in its original form when reproduced in Locke's 1940 The Negro in Art, perhaps Hayden altered it after reading Porter's scalding appraisal. Porter did not accept Hayden's representational techniques and did not look for alternative meanings behind them; in his view, the buffoonish minstrel figure was harmful to black people and needed to be buried rather than absorbed or recollected. As Ott comments, "Porter fully grasped the parodie content and aims of Hayden's artwork but ultimately disapproved of his tactics."108 But the resemblance of the janitor's head to the Fang mask pictured in Fétiche et fleurs indicates that Hayden might have used this technique to signify the African ancestry of his friend Cloyd Boykin, the janitor featured in the work, and perhaps, as in Notts quatre à Paris, he viewed the African mask as a compelling representational model for depicting black features.

Caricature is a prevailing element in Hayden's vocabulary, however, and cannot be explained consistently through layered references to African masks or Iighthearted humor. Hayden's WPA painting Midsummer Night in Harlem (Fig. 2), for example, depicts nighttime socializing in New York's famous black district and again contains figures with decidedly exaggerated features. Painted under government sponsorship, the work caters to white conceptions of blackness and lacks the formal complexity of Nous quatre à Paris. Here, Hayden presented Harlem as populated by a series of nearly identical people with buffoonish grins and bulging eyes. Instead of addressing issues of poverty or unemployment, as was common Ln the work of many of his peers, Hayden imagined grinning black figures that sit idly on the stoops of their buildings and peer out of windows, looking completely satisfied with their lot in life, a conception that resembles racial caricature in form and theme. Unlike Porter's rebuke of the piece, period criticism of the work overlooks the stereotypical attributes and behaviors of Hayden's figures and instead focuses on the congested nature of urban life.109 Midsummer Night in Harlem was included in Roofs for 40 Million, a 1938 exhibition held at Rockefeller Center that served as a social protest against inadequate urban housing, yet the repeated grinning faces in Hayden's painting belie die realities of the Depression that this exhibition sought to address.110 Like much of Motley7s work, Midsummer Night in Harlem distracts from the Depression-era deprivations that consumed the work of so many of his peers.

Recent scholars have sought explanations for Hayden's motivations behind these comical characters. Powell reads the figures as Hayden's satirical response to the downtrodden images of work and toil of his contemporaries.111 In New Negro Artists in Paris, Leminger-Miller speculates that Hayden aimed to mock his white patrons, notably, the Harmon Foundation, through Midsummer Night, by portraying blacks as performing buffoons.112 Ott has read the caricattired figuration in Hayden's The Janitor Who Paints as a lampooning of the Harmon Foundation's repeated identification of black artists as "laborers."113 Hayden may have used such images to express serious misgivings about the Harmon Foundation and its questionable assessments of his work, but his employment with the organization until its demise in 1967 gives evidence of an extended relationship with the foundation and its director, Mary Beattie Brady."4 Even if the foundation in some way served as the subject of his critique, his application of caricature is so widespread in his work that it must have further significations as well.

Motley and Hayden were well aware of the debates surrounding the New Negro and clearly participated in furthering certain stereotypical conceptions of blackness. Several critics hailed Motley's 1928 solo exhibition in New York as portraying a unique Negro aesthetic, an idea that the artist entertained to some extent. Prompted to paint "voo-doo" scenes for the exhibition by the gallery director, George Hellman, Motley constructed mythical scenes of Africa.115 These fantastic canvases catered to die popular imagination of Africa as exotic, dangerous, and primitive and attest to Motley's willingness to respond to cultural and market demands for stereotypical images of blacks. Critics frequently evaluated Motley's work in stereotypical terms. While an African-American artist's educational background was often blamed for a lack of "authenticity," critic Edward Alden Jewell presented Motley as a quintessential artist of his race whose academic training in no way diminished his ability to express his blackness. Jewell's often-quoted review of Motley's New York exhibition speaks of a racial essence that links the artist's entire body of work:

Myriad age-old racial memories drift up from Africa and glowing islands of the sea to color more recent ghostly memories of plantation days when black was black and slaves were slaves; and these memories sift, finally, through negro life in Northern cities of the present, leaving everywhere their imprint and merging with a rich blur of tribal echoes.116

With an earnest faith in these stereotypical conceptions of blackness, Jewell hailed Motley for his successful development of a unique racial aesthetic.117

Motley appeared to embrace earnestly the ideas about essential rhythm and humor articulated in so much of the criticism of the period. He respected the Jewell review of his 1928 exhibition and quoted it at length in his 1947 essay "How I Solve My Painting Problems."118 Like Jewell, Motley accepted certain stereotypical notions of black identity as true, indicated by his 1928 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. There he articulated his ambitions to place African Americans at the center of his art in order to bring about greater racial accord: "To me it seems that pictures portraying the suffering, sorrow, and at times the childlike abandon of the Negro; the dance, the song, the hilarious moments when a bit of Jazz predominates, would do much to bring about better relations, a better understanding between the races, white and colored."119 Likewise, Motley's 1947 essay conveys his tendency to stereotype despite its overall denouncement of stereotypes:

For years many artists have depicted the Negro as the ignorant Southern "darky," to be portrayed on canvas as something humorous. . . . This material is obsolete and I sincerely hope with the progress the Negro has made he is deserving to be represented in his true perspective, with dignity, honesty, integrity, intelligence, and understanding. The Negro is no more the lazy, happy go lucky, shiftless person he was shortly after the Civil War. Progress has changed all this.120

Motley's statement is telling; instead of understanding black caricatures as degrading myths conjured by a racist public, he seems to regard these stereotypes as characterizing a past reality. By writing, "This material is obsolete" and "The Negro is no more the lazy, happy go lucky, shiftless person he was shortly after the Civil War," Motley implies that these stereotypes held real meaning for him, at least as a historical truth. His participation in a society in which racial stereotyping pervaded all areas of culture perhaps explains his familiarity and comfort with constructing figures based on racial caricature.

Hayden explained his tendency to produce exaggerated black types as a "folk" technique rather than "caricature." In response to criticism of his work When Tricky Sam Shot Father Lamb (1940), which employs stereotypical figures, including a "mammy" in the foreground, Hayden said, "Langston Hughes saw it and he liked it very much, but, of course, he liked folk things and used them in his poetry."121 Hayden presented his work as embracing a popular vernacular style that was meant to be expressive of everyday folk culture rather than reflecting harmful elements of popular culture. Although Hayden never specifically discussed his techniques or themes in Nous quatre à Paris, Fétiche et fleurs, The Janitor Who Paints, or Midsummer Night in Harlem, he denied that his work in any way demeaned blacks. In response to criticism, Hayden said, "I just tried to tell it like it is. . . . Never did hesitate. Some people are too thin-skinned."122

Stereotype and Resistance

The discomfort with caricatured figures in compositions by Motley and Hayden that has been voiced by critics and art historians from the 1930s to the present reflects an important concern about racial self-perception. These artists' absorption of this type of figuration cannot be attributed solely to lighthearted satire and modernist representational devices. Even as Motley and Hayden expressed the desire to create new and dignified images of African Americans, their work shows tirat they did not intend to separate themselves from the dominant culture's existing visual and literary representations and perceptions of black people. In "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular," Stuart Hall discusses the ways in which popular culture, as an ever-evolving concept, can give marginalized groups a forum for resistance but can also function as a means of dominance and containment,123 as is the case when considering racial stereotypes and caricatures developed by the dominant cultore.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the black "talented tenth" sought to resist black subjugation by majority white law and culture through fresh literary and artistic representations. As Hall suggests, however, a resistant segment of society does not simply stand outside the dominant culture in which they live: "How could we explain, and what would we do with the idea of, the culture of a dominated class which, despite its complex interior formations and differentiations . . . managed somehow to construct 'a culture' which remained untouched by the most powerful dominant ideology - popular imperialism?"124 The black artists and scholars who welcomed a "New Negro" and had hopes for a changing race psychology and image did not form a heroic "alternative" culture in the United States and, of course, was not isolated from larger forms" of cultural domination. Even those artists who actively sought to challenge prevailing forms of black representation were often drawn into stereotypical formats, as was the case with Motley and Hayden. Hall continues,

Cultural domination has real effects - even if these are neither all-powerful nor all-inclusive. If we were to argue that these imposed forms have no influence, it would be tantamount to arguing that the Culture of the people can exist as a separate enclave, outside the distribution of cultural power and the relations of cultural force.125

Hall indicates tliat resistance to the dominant culture is an ongoing process that is never fully won or lost. In articulating African^American figures through caricature, consciously or not. Motley and Hayden exposed the extent to which derogatory images of blacks shaped their thinking and aesthetics.

Certainly the fear that a damaged sense of self-perception generated these artists' use of caricature cannot be ignored. About Hayden's exaggerated characters, Leininger-MÜler speculates,

Because . . . they have a sense of naïveté about them, they seem to be made with affection and suggest the goodnatured humor and theatricality of the circus scenes of Hayden's paintings. But did this in part result from a process in which Hayden, like so many others, had internalized white perceptions of African-American culture?120

Motley and Hayden complicated this form of popular imagery, uprooting it from its original use by the dominant culture and altering its narrative and significations, but they did not consisten Uy exhibit the distancing and irony that would evolve in the postmodern period in the work of contempo rar)' artists that adopt or reference caricature, such as Robert ColesCott, Kara Walker, Michael Ray Charles, and Peter Williams. While I would argue that Motley and Hayden on occasion draw attention to the workings of representation itself, they do not fully expose racial caricature as fraud but instead adopt it as an element of humor and satire. The fact that they used this imagery satirically without seeming to recognize the ways in which it might be harmful conveys that they and artists of their generation more generally were not fully able to distance themselves from and undermine popular conceptions of blackness.

In absorbing the techniques of popular culture, work by Motley and Hayden reveals the thorniness and perhaps impossibility of creating a wholly newborn "New Negro" removed from the trappings of popular and established forms of representation. These artists signal that racial imager)' and black identity were still very much under negotiation and dispute during the 1930s and throughout their careers; indeed, their work draws attention to the conflicts and debates over defining the "New Negro" and the place of visual humor and satire within this discourse. Although these artists manipulated popular techniques of black representation, demonstrating their ability to construct new narratives, the consistent appearance of caricature throughout their body of work suggests that pervasive and harmful images of black identity insinuated themselves even in the consciousness of those artists seeking to resist them.


"Miranda, I thought you'd be interested in this. . . by your feople, you know - such significant rolidity . . . such a surface . . . how do you do it?"


Notes I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for The Art Bulletin and editor-in-chief Richard Powell for their invaluable comments on this essay. I would also like to thank Jonathan Fineberg, Lowery Stokes Sims, Rachael DeLue, Jordana Mendelson, David O'Brien, and my many friends and colleagues for their assistance and encouragement throughout the evolution of my thoughts on this topic. Dartmoutii College's Art History Department and Humanities Center provided me with the support to complete and publish this article, for which I am grateful. A publication grant through the Society for the Preservation of American Modernists provided much-needed funding for rights and reproduction fees. I offer them my thanks as well. This article could not have been written without the vital contributions to African-American art history of the last twenty years; I would like to single out Richard Powell, Lowery Stokes Sims, and Mary Ann Calo for their insights, sensitivity, and painstaking research. 1. Because many Renaissance artists, such as Archibald Modey Jr., came from geographic locations outside Harlem, I prefer the term "Negro Renaissance" to the more frequently employed "Harlem Renaissance." 2. John Ott discusses uncertainty over the date of die original version of The Janitor Who Paints, which in period publications was labeled as 1936 or 1937, in "Labored Stereotypes: Palmer Hayden's The Janitor Who Paints," American Art 22, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 102-15. Rose Henderson mentions The Janitor Who Paints in a 1934 review, which suggests thai Hayden likely painted the work in the early 1930s. Henderson. "Negro Art Exhibit." Southern Workman 63, no. 7 (July 1934): 216. 3. James Porter, Modern Negro Ari (New York: Dryden Press, 1943; reprint, Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1992), 100. On evaluates the presence of caricature in Hayden's Janitor in "Labored Stereotypes." 4. Amy Mooney. "Representing Race: Disjunctures in the Work of Archibald J. Modey, Jr.," in African Americans in. Art: Selections from the Art Institute in Chicago (Chicago: Art Insdtute of Chicago, 1999). 42. Mooney also discusses Motley's use of caricature in her book Archibald, J. Motley, Jr. (San Francisco: Pomegranate Press, 2004). Michael D, Harris delves into the issue of caricature in Modey's art in his chapter "Color Lines: Mapping Color Consciousness in the Art of Archibald Motley, Jr.," in Colored Pictures: Race, and Visual Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 149-87. 5. For a thorough account of die prevalence of these images and a history of black stereotypes, see Kenneth W. Goings, Mammy and Uncle Mose: Black Collectibles and American Stereotyping (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); and Jan Nederveen Pieterse, White on Black: Images of Africa and. Blacks in Western Popular Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 6. Modey, quoted in Elaine Woodall, "Looking Backward: Archibald J. Motley and the Aft Institute of Chicago; 1914-30," Chicago History 8 (Spring 1979): 57. 7. Hayden, quoted in Allan M. Gördon, Echoes of Our Past:. The Narrative Artistry of Palmer C. Hayden (Los Angeles: Museum of African American Art, 1988), 15. 8. Archibald J. Modey Jr., "How I Solve My Painting Problems," 1947, Archibald J. Modey Jr. Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collection, Chicago Historical Society (hereafter Motley Papers). 9. Palmer Hayden specifically criticizes Thomas Hart Benton's rendering of stereotypical black figures. Hayden, interview by James Adams, Camille Billops, and james V. Hatch, May 14, 1972, Hatch-Billops Archives, New York. 10. Kobena Mercer, "Tropes of the Grotesque in the Black Avant-Garde," in Pap Art and Vernaadar Cultures (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007), 143. 11. Mercer discusses works by Betye Saar, Robert Colescott, and David Hammons. 12. Mary Ann Calo's authoritative text Distinction and Dentai: Race, Nation, and the Criticai Construction of the African American Artist, 1920-40 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007) sifts through the many articles and essays that contributed to this debate. 13. A. Joan Saab, For the Millions: American Art and Culture between the Wars (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) . Saab argues that the government-funded art programs of the 1930s sought to remove die "aura" from art by promoting a new phase in American artistic production that would make art conceptually and physically accessible to the American public. Community, art programs furthered this effort by allowing the average citizen to engage in artistic practices. 14. Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists from 1792 to the Present (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 227. 15. Saab, For tfie iMillions, 42. 16. While federal funding gave black artists the opportunity to develop their work, their artistic production generally did not receive the same kind of support, analysis, or historieizing than that of their white contemporaries. The preoccupation whh defining "Americanness" and the push for a broader American aesthetic based on cultural unity rather than racial or edmic difference often undermined die significance of black artistic production. Further, as art historian Mary Ann Calo has written, art criticism between the wars served to stereotype and marginalize black artiste, which has resulted in a dearth of rigorous insight into die work of African-American modernists. Calo, Distinction and Denial; and idem, "African American Art and Critical Discourse between World Wars," American Quarterly 51, no. 3 (1999): 580-621. 17. The Harmon Foundation files on Motiey suggest there were periods in the 1920s when Motley could support himself on his work alone, but for much of his career his wife's income was crucial to their financial stability. Archibald Motley files, Harmon Foundation Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Motley's wife Edith Granzo worked as a masseuse and provided a secure source of income for the family until her death in 1948. Valerie Gerrard Browrte, Motley's daughter-in-law, interview, March 19, 2003, Loyola University, Chicago. Modey's assignments for the WPA are discussed in JOntyle Theresa Robinson and Wendy Greenhouse, The Art of Archibald Motley. Jr. (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1991), 20-21, 23. 18. Public Works of Art Project to Palmer Hayden, April 6, 1934, Palmer Hayden Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (hereafter Hayden Papers). 19. Hayden married Miriam Hoffman of Des Moines, Iowa, in 1940. Her salary as a teacher made Hayden ineligible for federal support. Hayden, interview by Adams et al. 20. In her chapter "Future Citizens and a Usable Past," Saab, For the Millions, 54-83, discusses the FAP's promotion of African-American art through the Community Art Center in Harlem. The audior describes the ways, in which the FAP used this particular center to publicize government projects and give the appearance of uicorporating black populations into a larger conception of shared citizenship. 21. Barbara Melosh, Engendering Culture: Manhood and Womanhood in New Deal Public Art and neater (Washington, D.C: Smtdisonian Institution Press, 1991), S3. 22. Stuart Davis, "Rejoinder to Thomas Benton," Art Digest 9, no. 13 April I1 1935): 13. 23. Heroic content enters Hayden's work in his John Henry series (194447), a group of twelve paintings based on the Southern folk legend of John Henry, the black "steel driving" man. See David C. Driskell, Palmer Hayden - the John Henry Series and Paintings Reflecting the Theme of Afro-American Folklore (Nashville: Fisk University, 1970), n.p. 24. Referring to "positive* literary conceptions of blacks generated by nineteentiV and twentieth-century black and white scholars, Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes that diese writers "erred on die side of nobility, positing a series of equally fictitious black archetypes, from James Fenimore Cooper's AbrahaAUTHOR AFFILIATION

Phoebe Wolfskill is a lecturer and visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. Her book Adoration and Anxiety: Modern Life and Racial Identity in the Depression-Era Art of Reginald Marsh, Archibald Motley Jr., and Palmer Hayden focuses on issues of race and national identity in paintings and prints by these three artists [Phoebe Wolfskill, Department of Art History, Dartmouth College, 6033 Carpenter Hall, Hanover, NH. 03755,].

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Palmer Hayden
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