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Art Watch : Titus Kaphar

Titus Kaphar is in focus for our Art Watch for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Titus Kaphar’s work will alters the way one sees history with his provocative paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations. After experiencing his work it will not be a simple matter as he will get into your head about how one speaks with him, about the way his art interacts with history and the known, how artists should engage in the political spaces and on national monuments, cut to his experiences as black artists working today.

Kaphar talks about how he spent his entire school life practically a failure and always on the edge of being thrown out of school – struggling to fit in. This would form the fabric that he would later use as his canvas, which he would rip. It was only when he joined an art history course that he understood himself better and he could validate his perceptions.

Why Titus Kaphar?

Kaphar said of his work: “I’ve always been fascinated by history: art history, American history, world history, individual history – how history is written, recorded, distorted, exploited, reimagined, and understood. In my work I explore the materiality of reconstructive history. I paint and I sculpt, often borrowing from the historical canon, and then alter the work in some way. I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear, and turn the paintings and sculptures I create, reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history. “

As far as he was concerned, when he transferred to San Jose to further study – he was focussed on the part of history where much was left unsaid. These are the areas that he wanted to own, like himself.

Immensely talented he was approached by Time magazine in 2014v to do a painting “Person of the Year” finalists, the Ferguson Protestors. The painting, Yet Another Fight For Remembrance (2014), is a 4-by-5-foot montage showing a group of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, streaked of white paint, as though erased from the picture plane or, more figuratively, the annals of history.

He has not looked back since then and he won the McArthur Fellowship in 2018.

Creative Journey

Kaphar taught himself to paint through various self taught methods – so much of his art also involves how he creates an oil only to smash it, making a statement on its own.

“I have this love for representational painting and this love for post-modernist gestures, these actions that disrupt the history of art making. I think smashing those two things together is how I ended making the things I’m making right now.” Says the artist and this is what gives his work the sharp edge that cuts right through and reaches the viewer.

Since his success he now works in various mediums, and the recent years have seen him branch into more and more multidisciplinary forms. Ultimately Kaphar leaves it up to the audience to make what they will with his realisations and revelations that he offers, but the impetus is to respond to the injustice that stares back, and respond with action. His strength lies in the ability to draw attention to a moral crises which spans the contemporary and the ancient, and his brilliance lies in the seamless joining of both. It can be safely said that Kaphar will be a force to reckon with in the coming years, as an artist.

His works are held in collections in the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum and the New Britain Museum of American art to name a few.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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