The Daily Pic

04.10.12

Black Power Comes Unstretched

The Daily Pic: In 1971, Joe Overstreet combined abstraction and activism.

Why is it that black artists of the 1970s seem to have been drawn to unstretched canvases? Sam Gilliam is the obvious example, but this piece makes Joe Overstreet, Gilliam’s almost exact contemporary, a second one. (It’s in the Brooklyn Museum collection, and on the wall there now.) Could it be that, even in abstraction, imagery that spoke of escape and broken boundaries had particular appeal? Or maybe there’s no real trend here, other than black artists embracing a tendency that was coursing through the art world at the time.  Still, with a title like “Power Flight”, it’s clear in this work that Overstreet, who was active in civil rights, felt that he could make the tendency his own. The museum notes that the piece is in the red, black, and green of black liberation, and was inspired by the tents of African nomads.

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