“Making art is a life experience, it’s a necessary experience,” believes Raymond Saunders. “And it’s the only experience I trust.” With Raymond Saunders: On Freedom and Trust, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art presents 25 large mixed-media paintings by Saunders (some never exhibited before) from his vast career, along with his provocative quotes and ephemera incorporated onto the gallery walls.
Now in his 80s, Saunders reuses many motifs in his work and repurposes commercial and cultural signs to create multiple perspectives and meanings. Many of the works are experimental, using stencils, commercial iconography, and found objects.
“In the process of painting, for the one thing that someone sees, there are innumerable things that they never see.”
The exhibition, curated by SVMA guest curator Shelby Graham, runs through January 8, 2023.
Saunders has argued that his work should not be labeled as “Black art” although he is a Black American. He is known for his provocative 1967 essay, Black Is a Color, a manifesto questioning the stereotypical role of the black artists while playing on the scientific definition of wavelengths of the color spectrum. He also expresses that activism was not his mission but that he allowed himself “to hope that in the effort [of making art] some light, some love, some beauty may be shed upon the world, and perhaps some inequities put right.”
One of Saunders’ signature room-size paintings, Joseph Fitzpatrick Was Our Teacher, on loan from the Crocker Museum of Art, is dedicated to the art teacher he shared with Andy Warhol. Raymond Saunders studied with Joseph C. Fitzpatrick, also the art teacher of Andy Warhol, at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh and as a child attended the prestigious Carnegie Institute’s Saturday classes also taught by Fitzpatrick.
Saunders taught art his entire career, and is very articulate when speaking about the improvisation and learning process inherent in his own fluid creative process. He describes how he works in a continuum from one piece to the next.
“My intention in teaching at a University was not to teach artists,” Saunders has said. “I wanted to sort of contribute to wellbeing; I wanted to contribute to Freedom and the choice of being an artist.” (Wall text excerpt from Raymond Saunders in conversation with Christopher Cook, 1987, from “Nothing to Say.”)
Saunders’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, The Oakland Museum of California, The Crocker Museum of Art in Sacramento, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many other public and private collections.