| August 27 2019,

01:02 am

Point 'Em Out is an editorial series where Blavity explores the latest and greatest in Black art. Thanks to modern-day technology, we get to be virtual consumers of yesterday's icons and today’s most innovative Black artwork, and — if we're lucky — the Black geniuses who produce them.

At the intersection of Black art and coffee tables lies the beautifully crafted and equally informative art book. For the most part, people sleep on these texts when they are actual art pieces themselves. By design, these texts go above and beyond monetary value as they deliver on aesthetics and a comprehensive understanding of an artist's work. Well before flipping through their pages, art books tease art lovers with captivating covers that range in texture, color and depth. The experience is often layered with critical perspectives from writers and other creatives, who speak to and for the style, execution, imagination and mission of an artist's body of work.

Amassing original art is optimal. However, becoming an avid collector isn't conducive to everyone's budget. Art books, on the other hand, makes art work accessible in a very tangible way. The bonus in acquiring them is that it supports the artist as well. Now, if you're out there running around professing your love of Black art, you're playing yourself if you don't own these 13 Black art books.

1. Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series

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The cover of this text boasts the painting titled "Panel 60," from the late, great artist's most abundant production: Migration Series. The book is tastefully crafted and walks readers through a historical and visual narration of The Great Migration.

2. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Marshall is a living master. His work and this book makes it plain. Mastry is titled after Marshall's traveling retrospective exhibition of the same name and complements the show's brilliance and magnitude. The cover is upholstered in tweed and graces an image of the painting "Untitled (Painter)," while the end page features drawings from Rhythm Mastr, Marshall's comic book panels.


Photo credit: Ida Harris

Gordon's striking photograph "Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia, 1956," is a cover that psychologically draws readers to it. The image highlights a Black woman staring off into the distance as she cradles a white infant while sitting in a segregated waiting area. The book is both an invitation to view America during one of its grimiest and racist moments, and a photographic journal of Blackness in raw form — enduring.

4. Samella Lewis and The African American Experience

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Lewis is yet another living master with a superb body of work, dating back to 1940. The book features Lewis' artwork spanning 71 years. It details her curriculum vitae and shares her own private art collection. The cover is rich with the cool color and earth tones used in her painting "Swamp Diva."

5. Kara Walker: Dust Jackets for the Niggerati

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Dust Jackets for the Niggerati is a real treat and oozes both the visual and literary creativity. The cover is a folded dust jacket made up of text bearing the artist's statement. Unfolded, the dust jacket serves as a print that can be framed and hung for art's sake. The book itself is a compilation of essays, poems and woodcuts focused on words, along with picturesque drawings, using graphite and pastel on paper, that Walker is known for.

6. Mickalene Thomas: MUSE  

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Thomas' book is made up of collage, color, patterns, beauty and bodies. Beautiful bodies; beautiful Black woman bodies; bold, beautiful, Black woman bodies are the muse in her book. From cover to cover Thomas' photographic prowess delivers a highly tasteful and stimulating perspective of Black women, who are not often the center of commercial gaze.

7. Alfred Conteh: THE SWEET SPOT

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Staying true to the notion that artists are culture documentarians, Conteh delivers. THE SWEET SPOT fuses two parts, Part I and II, and offers it as a whole. It goes hand-in-hand with the art exhibition that is its namesake. The text boasts one image, "Details of The Sweet Spot," split into two, making two distinctive covers: a back and front — flipped — with each side representing their respective show. It also highlights installations, paintings and sculptures Conteh has produced over time. The more recent work depicts blackness in real life. His subjects are actual people he encounters in actual settings.   

8. Leroy Campbell: My Authentic Self

Photo credit: Ida Harris

The charm of My Authentic Self is that it is familial. It comes across like a tall glass of sweet tea on a lazy Sunday afternoon surrounded by Grandma 'dem. Black visual narrative pops off the page. The book seems to tell tales of the Neckbone family, Campbell's signature Black figures. The cover bears an image of "Joe Neckbone and Joe Neckbone, Jr.," and it is crispy; which also makes it come across frame-worthy. 

9. Fahamu Pecou: INVISIBLE MAN

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Pecou is infamous for his braggadocious, editorial-styled, self-portrait paintings. The book has its fair share, but that's not all. It explores layers and layers of Blackness through various lenses; the ego, fly-ness, Africanness, n****a'ness, gravity, masculinity, spirituality and vulnerability. It's flavorful. The cover art doesn't disappoint either. It flaunts "The Return," a painting of a bare-chested Black man holding white foliage, and adorned with African traditional accouterments: cowry shell headdress and elekes. The Invisible Man got the whole world watching.

10. Shantrelle P. Lewis: DANDY LION

Photo credit: Shantrelle P. Lewis

This text illustrates the deliciousness of dandies — Black ones. Viewers will salivate over the plethora of well-dressed men who are challenging Black norms and concepts of masculinity and normalizing the patterned, spiffy and vivid nature of Black dandyism. If you've never experienced an ocular orgasm, you'll find it in DANDY LION: The Black Dandy And Street Style

11. Delita Martin: Shadows In The Garden

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Black women, patterns, texture and tones is an ongoing theme in Martin's work and in Shadows In The Garden. Complexity lives in Martin's work. The process is multilayered. There's printing, drawing, hand stitching, collage, acrylic and charcoal. The benefit is that the aesthetic is successfully transferred to her book. Martin's piece "Guardian" graces the cover.

12. Lucious Smith: Street Oracles

Photo credit: Luscious Smith

Lukumi, the African traditional religion also known as Santeria, makes a visual appearance in Street Oracles. Smith photographs Black folks whose characteristic likeness is parallel with the Orishas. The urban backdrop conveys a contemporary context of the tradition and its deities. The uncontained being on the cover is "Eleggua" for sure.   

13. Terrell Clark: Eyes Of Havana

Photo credit: Ida Harris

Cuban landscape and life are captured in this book, particularly the Afro demographic. It holds 107 photographs that portray the Caribbean Latinx culture in raw form. The cover photo "Unlit" shows an elder draped up and dripped out in elekes with an unlit cigar dangling from the corner of her mouth. That image alone deserves museum hanging.