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Image of White Flower, Black Flower

Raymond Jennings Saunders , b. Oct 28, 1934

White Flower, Black Flower

79 in. x 99 7/8 in. (200.66 cm x 253.68 cm)

Medium and Support: Mixed media on canvas and door
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Accession Number: 1987.38


In 1967 Raymond Saunders published a now famous pamphlet in which he challenged people to accept the fact that black really is just a color; one among many on the palette of any artist who seeks to free himself and his practice from the binds of identity-driven art. As he declared, “Black is a color. Racial hang-ups are extraneous to art. No artist can afford to let them obscure what runs through all art–the living root and the ever-growing aesthetic record of human spiritual and intellectual experience. Can’t we get clear of these degrading limitations, and recognize the wider reality of art, where color is the means and not the end?”

Featuring his trademark use of a black gesso ground which is then activated by the addition of a large assortment of traditional and nontraditional materials such as found objects and personal ephemera, White Flower, Black Flower is typical of Saunders’ selective eye and skill at weaving disparate and discarded elements into a highly charged and revelatory whole. While his mark making shares similarities to that of such contemporaries as Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Saunders’s combination of materials and the recurrence of certain motifs—white chalk, blackboard, paintbrushes, flowers, vessels, spirals—are unmistakably his own unique visual language and narrative, to which there is no key. Like the artist himself, his paintings are masterfully improvisational, defiant, and unexpected.

As author Toni Morrison wrote in a 1993 exhibition catalogue:

Raymond Saunders reconstitutes reality for us and with us. We discover with a shock how much of the world’s beauty lies in its detritus. . . . We look at his pictures and (suddenly or slowly) begin to imagine our own humanity—a kind of trembling tenderness touched with menace, exhilaration, relief, and the outrageous bounty at our disposal.

From an environment of the lost, the discarded, Saunders creates another wholly inscribed world of found things in which chalk and metal and
paint and wallpaper and toys and insignia combine to destabilize and soothe us—then to change us altogether like a tropical medicine belt. Glorious.

Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:

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