Archibald Motley, Jr. (1891-1981)

Archibald Motley, Jr., Stomp, 1927, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches, signed and dated lower right

Archibald Motley, Jr. (1891-1981) is one of the most well-respected artists in the United States. His contribution to American culture is immeasurable. Not only did he create an impressive body of paintings and writings that document the African American experience in the 20th century, he also helped to build bridges between Americans of African descent and Americans of European descent. A prime example of this is Stomp, an oil on canvas painting executed in 1927, during the Jazz Age and just before the Great Depression.

Amy Mooney states in her book, Archibald J. Motley, Jr., published in 2004 by Pomegranate, that in the painting Stomp “there is no perceptible hierarchy; couples mill about the room, enjoying the music and watching each other. Through jazz, social restrictions and racial segregation were temporarily suspended.” She goes on to say that Stomp as well as other works of art by Motley “not only provided diversion, they also participated in a larger dialogue by addressing economic and social consciousness and the shifting definitions of racial identity.”

For Motley it was important to portray his subjects in a geniune way so as to accurately document a moment in American history with the hope of enhancing racial harmony and understanding and with the goal of increasing the probability of bringing about unity among all Americans.

It should be noted that Stomp was part of the first solo exhibition by an African American artist in New York City. That exhibit was held at the New Gallery, 600 Madison Avenue, between February 25 and March 10, 1928. Motley was keen to point out that the invitation to show at the gallery was extended based on the quality of the artwork submitted for review and without the gallery being aware of the race of the artist.

Stomp was also part of the seminal 1977 exhibition Two Centuries of African American Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, curated by David C. Driskell.