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Classically Trained Painter Elizabeth Colomba Paints the Women Art History Ignored

By on November 27, 2019 0 171 Views

When you see the artwork of Harlem-based painter Elizabeth Colomba, it’s easy to mistake it for something created centuries ago; they’re the kinds of paintings you would find hanging in the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum. The quality of light, the colors, the rich texture of the subjects’ clothing, and the background bring to mind the works of Dutch Baroque painters like Johannes Vermeer — except Colomba’s paintings feature black women.

And unlike the handful of black women depicted throughout the history of Western art, these women are not servants or an ancillary to a white person; nor are they fetishized or exoticized. Her subjects are the focus of the paintings, and they are portrayed in lavish, affluent settings, like many of the European women painted by the old masters.

“While acknowledging the past, I wish to reshape the narratives and bend an association of ideas so that a black individual in a period setting is no longer synonymous with subservience and, by extension, does not instill fear or mistrust,” says Colomba in her artist’s statement. “The subject becomes the center of her own story and hastens it forward.”

Born to Martinican parents in Épinay-sur-Seine, just north of Paris, Colomba wanted to be an artist from a young age and displayed a natural talent as a child. She later studied art formally in Paris, at the École Estienne and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. After graduating, she worked as a storyboard artist in Los Angeles and eventually moved to New York to focus on fine arts.

Now, Colomba is working on some new paintings that explore the relationship between the black figure and leisure. Influenced by Walton Ford’s large-scale watercolors, the series will consist of four watercolors and two oil paintings. For now, you can see one of her paintings in an exhibition marking 100 years of women’s suffrage, “She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York,” a group show at Gracie Mansion, the residence of New York City’s mayor. (The 19th Amendment, which grants women the right to vote, was sent to the states for ratification in 1919.) As New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, remarked in an interview with The New York Times, most of the portraits in Gracie Mansion were of men, so her hope is that this exhibition will “fix that and show women who’ve been unheralded, unseen.”