Archibald John Motley Jr., American, 1891 - 1981 Search this
Barnett-Aden Gallery, American, 1943 - 1969 Search this
oil on canvas
H x W (framed): 40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2 cm)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States, North and Central America
Archibald Motley, a native of New Orleans, grew up amidst the rich racial and cultural mix that defines the Crescent City. A family move to Chicago when he was a child exposed him to a social dynamic shaped by the Great Migration, the movement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the segregated South to the North.
Despite his stated intention to dispel stereotypes, Motley’s images have sometimes been considered racially offensive. While the exaggerated red lips and coarse gestures may trouble some viewers, the vibrancy and dynamism of the scene and the deft handling of its dense composition show Motley at his best.
This oil painting depicts a street scene with a group of men arguing. In the painting's foreground are five men standing in a rough circle. Two men have their backs to the viewer, one tall thin figure wearing a grey suit and fedora. He carries a cigarette in his left hand, held behind his back. The second man is short, fat, and wears a light colored shirt and dark blue pants. He is balding and has his hands on his hips. He faces three taller men. The tallest wears a brown bowler hat over one eye and red tie with a dark blue suit. He stands with his legs spread and has a cigarette in his open mouth. Next to him is a man in a light colored suit with a flat blue cap. He holds a smoking cigarette in front of his face with his right hand. The third man wears a dark blue suit and flat cap. He leans against the wall behind him and gestures with his right hand. Slightly in front of him is an overflowing can of garbage. Slightly behind the group of men to the left is another man with his head tilted upwards, drinking from a flask. Above the men is an open window in the brick building behind them. A woman in a green sleeveless dress sits at the window, right hand on the sill, left hand touching her hair. Her head is turned downwards towards the men. Beyond the brick building is a small green yard with a laundry line. A woman in a red dress and white apron is hanging white sheets on the line. She looks over her shoulder at the group of men. Beyond the laundry line is a small house with a porch. A man in a white shirt and dark pants stands on the porch, leaning forward on the railings. It is signed and dated by the artist.