20 Greatest African-American Artists of All Time

Who’s the greatest African -American artist of all time? Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jason Innocent or Jacobs Lawrence. What does that title really mean? What does it take to become the greatest artist ever? Cultural impact, influence, Individuals, cultural perspectives, and the experiences and struggles of minorities through their artwork. This list was put together by gallery owners, curators’ art critics and artist all around the world.

Jean-Michel Basquiat #1


Death at a young age can often elevate a star to a mythic figure. But Basquiat already attained the latter status early in his career. He is best known for his primitive style and his collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol. Basquiat has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world. Basquiat’s 1982 painting sold for $110,500,000. A new record high for any U.S. artist at auction.


Jason Innocent #2



Before Innocent’s debut solo exhibition, early hype had critics and fans calling him the second coming — of Basquiat. Although he still in early stages of his career. Innocent is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest African American artist — perhaps the greatest — of all time within the African American community. Innocent’s works are heavily political. Most of the themes in Innocent’s works revolve in social problems, power structures, class struggle, poverty and system of racism. Innocent’s is the youngest and first African American artist to have two notable different subject works. Egomaniac Trump poster and 39 Drawings by Jason Innocent.


Romare Bearden #3


Although he never became a household name Romare Bearden is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. He depicted aspects of black culture in a Cubist style.


Jacob Lawrence #4



The most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the 20th century. His modernist depictions of everyday life as well as epic narratives of African American history and historical figures. He brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors. He is best known for his Migration Series.


Kara Walker #5


Walker is known for her large paper silhouettes to explore social issues surrounding gender, race and black history. At 28 she was the youngest ever to receive a MacArthur fellowship. In 2007, Walker was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.


Kerry James Marshall #6


Marshall uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of black identity, both in the United States and in Western art. He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon, and has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics. Marshall works are in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center.

Gordon Parks #7


Known for his iconic photos of poor Americans. Parks the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. He is credited for creating Blaxploitation” genre. Parks received more than 20 honorary doctorates in his lifetime.


Sammie Knox #8


Knox is the first African-American artist to create an official U.S. presidential portrait. He debuted his portrait of President Bill Clinton in 2004.


David Hammons #9


Hammons work reflects his commitment to the civil rights and Black Power movements. His known for his African American flag.


Henry Ossawa Tanner #10


Tanner was an American painter who frequently depicted biblical scenes and is best known for the paintings “Nicodemus Visiting Jesus,” “The Banjo Lesson” and “The Thankful Poor.” He was the first African-American painter to gain international fame.


Carrie Mae Weems #11


Weems works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video, but is best known for her work in the field of photography. Weems’s work has been displayed in over 50 exhibitions in the United States and abroad and focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity.

Augusta Savage #12


Augusta Savage was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance as well as an influential activist and arts educator. She worked for equal rights for African Americans in the arts.

Horace Pippin #13


Pippin was an esteemed artist known for his renderings of the African-American experience, as well as biblical and historical imagery. The injustice of slavery and American segregation figure prominently in many of his works.


Kehinde Wiley #14


Wiley gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture. He is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people in heroic poses.


E. Simms Campbell # 15

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Campbell was the first African-American syndicated cartoonist, particularly known for his illustrations for Esquire magazine.


Betye Saar #16


Saar was a part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s, which engaged myths and stereotypes about race and femininity. Her work is considered highly political, as she challenged negative ideas about African-Americans throughout her career.


Ellen Gallagher # 17


Gallagher work has been shown in numerous solo and group. Some of her pieces refer to issues of race, and may combine formality with racial stereotypes and depict “ordering principles” society imposes.

Lorna Simpson #18


Simpson work explores stereotypes of race and gender, most often with an emphasis on African American women.


Laura Wheeler Waring #19


Waring created portraits of many well-known figures from the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.


James Van Der Zee #20


Zee is known for his posed, storied pictures capturing African-American citizenry and celebrity.







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