Feature: The Next Generation of Masters in Black Contemporary Art x Artsy's Curator's Choice

Tony Parker, Artsy, July 10, 2023

In this new installment of our “Curator’s Choice” series, Tony Parker, sales director of United Talent Agency’s Atlanta art space, describes the impact of the great masters of Black art on a new generation of Black abstract painters. As told to Ayanna Dozier.

I am a Black masters fiend. I study Black masters in art to understand what these contemporary artists are trying to convey—what is teetering the line of being a total copy. In order for me to understand a work or artist, and coming from a basketball background, I study people [who came] before us to understand what to do now. It is a really great way to find that balance in art.




My first experience with art came through [late abstract painter] Sam Gilliam. I first encountered Gilliam’s work when I tore my ACL and had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was a professional basketball player, had played at UCLA, and won two gold medals. It was a serious part of my life and it was hard to see it not be. So, while I was at a physical rehab center, late at night I was just going religiously through art books and losing myself in Gilliam’s work. It’s a cliché to say, but I was losing myself in real life so it was really easy to lose myself in a painting. Artist books are important to me because I didn’t grow up with art, so that was the only tangible thing I could see about an artist—it educated me in a lot of ways.


Ryan Cosbert’s work is from parts of the diaspora that people don’t really know: She traces parts from Africa and the Caribbean and puts it together as one in her textile-inspired abstractions. In one work, Cosbert compares the ocean to Black people. We tell the ocean that it’s beautiful and that we love it, but we don’t do enough to protect it. The painting, L.A.S. 1 (2022), refers to all the pollution in the ocean that we can ignore because it’s inconvenient for us to think about. Cosbert is really good at using her abstraction as a vehicle for addressing problems that trouble her. She is an empath and that shows in her work.


Cosbert’s retrospective in 80 years will show the timeline of her abstraction addressing social issues. I think her work mirrors that of Bowling. Whereas he put the countries on the canvas, Cosbert puts the characteristics of these various Black diasporic cultures. That skill that Cosbert possesses is the special part where we talk about influence without stepping over. The work that she puts in and the studying of other masters to elevate her practice, while still conveying her message on contemporary issues, is really special.


To read the full article, visit Artsy.