Profile: Raymond Saunders (1934-)

Raymond Saunders is an American artist known for his multimedia paintings which often have sociopolitical undertones,  and which incorporate assemblage, drawing, collage and found text. Saunders is also recognized for his installation, sculpture, and curatorial work.


Early life and education

Saunders received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1960. He trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Barnes Foundation before going on to earn his Master of Fine Arts degree from California College of Arts and Crafts in 1961.


Saunders lives and works primarily in Oakland, California. Saunders is a former professor of Painting at California College of the Arts, Oakland, California, and professor emeritus at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, California.

Saunders works in a large variety of media, but is mainly known for work that encompasses painting and transversal media juxtaposition, sometimes bordering on the sculptural (as in Pieces of Visual Thinking, 1987) but always retaining the relation to the flat wall key to modernism in painting. Saunders’ painting is expressive, and often incorporates collage (mostly small bits of printed paper found in everyday life), chalked words (sometimes crossed out), and other elements that add references and texture without breaking the strong abstract compositional structure. This lends a sense of social narrative to even his abstract work which sets it apart from artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, or Cy Twombly, with which it has obvious affinities.

In 1967, Saunders declared “black is a color”. Throughout his career, Saunders has questioned the premise that black artists produce something that should be uniquely identified as “black art”. In his own work, he looked to separate his practice from the restrictions of identity-driven art, “I am an artist. I do not believe that artwork should be limited or categorized by one’s racial background.”

Besides his painting, Saunders is known for his late 1960s pamphlet Black is a Color, which argues against metaphoric uses of the concept “black” in both the mainstream abstract and conceptual art world and Black Nationalist cultural writing of the time.


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