Profile: Alvin D. Loving Jr. (1935-2005)

Alvin D. Loving Jr. better known as Al Loving, was an African-American abstract expressionist painter. His work is known for hard-edge abstraction, fabric constructions, and large paper collages, all exploring complicated color relationships.


Alvin Demar Loving Jr. was born on September 19, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan. Loving earned a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1963 and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His mentor at the University of Michigan was Al Mullen, who helped him get involved with the Once Group organization. In 1968 Loving moved to New York City, where he moved into the infamous Hotel Chelsea.

Within a year of moving to New York City, Loving had his first solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in 1970, 1974, and 1984. In 1986 Loving was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Loving created large-scale commissioned public works throughout his career; a 208′ x 80′ mural painting A Message to Demar and Lauri (1972) on The First National Bank Building in Detroit, MI (removed 1989), a 54′ x 7′ painting New Morning 1 (1973) for the Empire State Collection in Albany, NY, a ceramic mural Detroit New Morning (1987) in one of Detroit’s People Mover stations and another Life, Growth, Continuity (1998) in the David Adamany Library at Wayne State University. In 1996, he created a collage painting Sacramento New Morning for the Sacramento Convention Center, and in 2001 he designed 70 stained-glass windows and mosaic walls for the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn.

Loving died on June 21, 2005, in New York, New York.

Artistic Style

Hard-Edge Abstraction

In the 1960s, Loving grew increasingly interested in Josef Albers’s paintings of squares within squares. In an interview, he explained: “For me at the time, it was about painting the square until it was ‘enough,’ and that meant until it obtained form. The square that I started with would always be gone; only I knew it was a square, that that reference was there. That freed me to just paint and let things evolve…[The square] was pure energy and focus.” These geometric abstractions conveyed the brilliance of refracted light; they were not just experiments in color. Loving would often make polyhedrons of the same size, with different colors, and hang them together in different arrangements on the wall. The result was sometimes dozens of canvases stretching out over several feet; to view an entire composition would take time, more than just a glance, making his paintings a powerful expression of time, too. Loving’s geometric paintings were featured in his first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Loving later abandoned hard-edged abstraction painting.

Fabric Constructions

Inspired by a visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition Abstract Design in American Quilts, in the early 1970s, Loving began to experiment with fabric constructions. He started hanging strips of canvas from the walls and ceilings, playing with our perception of pictorial and sculptural ideals. Then, he reattached the fragments together with a sewing machine, creating large flowing fabric constructions. At first he painted the pieces of canvas, but later switched to dying the fabric. Other artists, including Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields, and Richard Moch, were also using the sewing machine at this time to create fabric constructions. In fact, Loving considered himself within the context of abstract expressionism at this phase in his career; though he was not a painter but a material abstractionist.

Large Paper Collages

In the 1980s, Loving began to integrate other materials into his constructions, such as corrugated cardboard and rag paper. Loving quickly took a liking to the casualness of tearing cardboard and gluing it onto other pieces; in fact, he considered this practice abstract expressionist as well. Unlike the fabric constructions, the large paper collages gave him a sense of freedom because he was trekking through uncharted territory (although this work has been likened to Frank Stella’s curvilinear metal reliefs and Elizabeth Murray’s shaped canvases). Loving integrated circles and spirals into these collages as a nod to his African roots and as an expression of growth and continued life. In the piece, Perpetual Motion (1994)(DASNY), Loving integrated materials such as cardboard and print. The cardboard is cut and overlapped to form a series of spirals. Each spiral has been carefully painted and placed to create dynamic color relationships. They do not have conventional matting under them, glass to cover them or frames to surround them: instead, they cling flatly to the wall. Sandra Yolles, reviewing an exhibition in 1990, explained “Loving’s work is about earth, wind, fire, and water: some pieces might be considered atmospheric maps of life at full blast—stretching the possibilities of the human spirit by delineating its directions, currents, and eddies.’”

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