A provocative artist whose work I admire is Jerrell Gibbs. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he was self-taught. Despite never completing a bachelor’s degree, he earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2020.
When he was still a student, four of his paintings were chosen to be part of the 2019 exhibition “Blackface: A Reclamation of Beauty, Power, and Narrative” at Galerie Myrtis. This was a significant turning point in his career. His first solo exhibition was Sounds of Color: Recorded Memories at the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in 2021.
Like many Black contemporary artists, Jerrell uses figurative painting to address societal issues and create fresh and innovative work. He challenges perceptions of Black life by questioning dominant narratives and their connection to a history that has been visually neglected. Through his paintings, he resists stereotypes by depicting figures adorned with flowers and in peaceful, solitary settings. It’s an approach that aims to undo the misrepresentation of violence, trauma, and pain often associated with Black men.
Jerrell primarily works with oil on linen or canvas, appreciating its tactility, longevity and historical relevance. His work has been acquired by notable institutions such as the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the CC Foundation in Shanghai, and the X Museum in Beijing. His official portrait of the Baltimore congressman and civil rights leader Elijah Cummings is permanently displayed in the U.S. Capitol Complex.
Much of Jerrell’s recent body of work focuses on representing universal humanity and the joy of being left alone, away from systematic racism. In an interview about his soulful portraiture, he said, “It’s about me. That’s why there’s so much emotion within the figures in the paintings, because I’m placing myself into their space. I’m thinking about myself and whatever I’m going through and allowing the figure to be the avatar for me, whether it’s male or female… It’s almost like becoming the thing, becoming the person, in order to relay the message.”
The Clark Collection has four works by Jerrell. The subject of “Mi Hermano” (2019), oil and acrylic on canvas, is a man with his back turned to the viewer as he gazes out on a view of the ocean. Another 2019 piece of his, titled “Ella”, in oil on canvas, depicts an everyday scene of tranquility and simplicity that many Black and Brown people have not been able to experience. “Spring Has Sprung” (2021), in acrylic and oil stick on canvas, is a whimsical portrait of a man surrounded by white flowers. In “Boy with Herringbone Hat” (2022), in acrylic on board, the subject is a young boy with a quiet, reflective expression. Together, these works speak to issues of representation and collective memory. Like many of his other paintings, the pieces evoke a desire to exist without fear.
Jerrell’s work is authentic, joyful, and beautiful, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Read more about him and the themes that run through his work here.