Amy Sherald plumbs the multitudes of Black leisure in The Great American Fact, a series of arresting portraits that are currently on view at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. From a woman resting on a bicycle to two surfers readying for the water, the oil-based paintings observe moments of respite and pleasure at a monumental scale, sometimes spanning nearly nine feet across.
Although she surrounds her subjects with vivid patches of color and portrays them wearing bright garments, Sherald (previously) continues to render her subjects’ skin in her signature grayscale, which she’s described in recent years as a way to have the figures read “in a universal way, where they could become a part of the mainstream art historical narrative.” This new series also features elements synonymous with American culture, including a white picket fence, Barbie T-shirt, and retro convertible.
The collection’s title draws on the work of Anna Julia Cooper, an educator who in 1892 wrote A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South. In the classic Black feminist text, Cooper described Black people as “‘the great American fact’; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.” This understanding structures Sherald’s work and provides guideposts for considering “public Blackness,” particularly as the Georgia-born artist portrays figures with rich personal lives full of ease, relaxation, and joy. When much of Black life historically has centered around grappling with injustice and social issues, Sherald’s turn inward provides a nuanced view of her subjects.