Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Artists before the Twentieth Century

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Landscape painting of two sites in California

Grafton Tyler Brown, Residence of A. Gordon, Redwood City / Gordon's Chute, San Mateo Co. California / Ranch of A. Gordon, San Gregorio, California (No Date). Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. / Art Resource, NY

Though much of Brown's work depicted open spaces, and therefore the freedom of movement and self-determination that was denied African Americans of the time, it was undeniable that such open places in the west were fast disappearing or falling under the hand of development and progress. Brown's work often reminds us of the limiting of prospects and the closing of the frontier, as in Residence of A. Gordon, Redwood City / Gordon's Chute, San Mateo Co. California. An uneasy sea crashes ashore beneath gray cliffs and ranch buildings, while in the second panel a hem of low foothills and wilderness stand in stark contrast to the taming of the land seen nearby. A counterpoint to the open freedom and untouched majesty of much of Brown's work, Residence of A. Gordon reminds us the impermanence of all things, even pristine nature, and that freedom, even attained can just as easily be lost in the rush toward "improvement" and "progress."

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