Profile: Renee Stout (1958-)

Renee Stout is an American sculptor and contemporary artist known for assemblage artworks dealing with her personal history and African-American heritage. Born in Kansas, raised in Pittsburgh, living in Washington, D.C., and strongly connected through her art to New Orleans, Stout has strong ties to multiple parts of the United States. Her art reflects this, with thematic interest in African diasporic culture throughout the United States. Stout was the first American artist to exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

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Early life

Stout was born in Junction City, Kansas to a family that enjoyed creative activities. Her mother did needlework. Her father, a mechanic, and steelworker, liked to tinker. An uncle was a fine-art painter.

When Stout was one year old, her family returned to the East Liberty neighborhood in Pittsburgh. She took weekend classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art as a child, which she credits for exposing her to African art. In particular, two objects at the Carnegie Museum profoundly influenced her: shrunken heads from South America and nkisi. Writing of her pivotal encounter at the age of ten years old with a nkisi nkondi, “I saw a piece there that had all these nails in it … And I think once I got exposed to more African art in my travels as I got older, I found that I started going back to the pieces like that.”

Greene has noted that Stout’s childhood years in Pittsburgh coincided with Betty Davis’ move there, and that Stout owned all three of her records as a teenager. In an interview with Greene, she compared the reception of Betty Davis’ work with the reception she expected for her own: “People were not ready for her. . . . I think it’s going to be the same with my work: ‘Oh, that’s weird . . . ‘ And then one day, way down the line when I’m eighty or ninety, it’s like, ‘Oh, we get it now!’ [laughter]

Career

Stout attended Carnegie-Mellon University, where she trained as a photo-realist painter. She graduated with a BFA in 1980, where she followed the realist style of Edward Hopper and Richard Estes. She then worked as a professional sign painter, exhibiting her skill by painting convincing images of textures such as glass, plastic and cardboard

After moving to Washington, D.C. in 1985, Stout was exposed to the gritty reality of urban drug use and racism–themes which she has incorporated into her work. Stout also explores her African-American heritage in her art. Through the African diaspora, as well as the world and her immediate environment, Stout finds the inspiration to create works that encourage self-examination, self-empowerment, and self-healing, harnessing the belief systems of African peoples and their descendants.

Additionally, Stout uses imaginary characters to create a variety of artwork, some of which include: painting, mixed media sculpture, photography, and installation. Stout is the recipient of awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and has shown her work in solo and group shows throughout the United States, and in England, Russia and the Netherlands.

In 1993, Stout was the first African American to have a one-person exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Her exhibition was titled The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi and The Art of Renee Stout.

Renee Stout was a 2000 Artist-in-Residence at the Tryon Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, NC.

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