Stella by Starlight I

Robert Colescott American

Not on view

Over his six-decade career, Robert Colescott satirized racial and sexual stereotypes through figurative paintings filled with lurid color, powerful images of Black experience, and references to the history of art. While his works of the 1970s parodically reimagine famous paintings with Black subjects to examine their absence in the most celebrated canvases of Western art—as in his version of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware with George Washington Carver, a prominent Black scientist, in place of the former president (1975; Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles)—his late-decade watercolors skewer art history itself. These lively sheets feature cartoonish drawings of buxom pin-up girls to represent various stylistic periods.

This small watercolor relates to that 1970s series. In it, a blonde woman in a star print bikini, with her red heels casually tossed to the side, confidently poses in front of a colored metal relief by Frank Stella against a twilit sky. Colescott frequently represented such stereotypical all-American beauties in his oeuvre as a comment on cultural depictions of white women and mainstream standards of beauty. The work’s title, Stella by Starlight, invokes both a suite of sculptures that Stella made in the late 1970s and early 1980s and a jazz standard made popular in the mid-twentieth century by musicians including Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. It might also be a punning double reference to the shared name of the woman in the drawing and the artist whose work she stands before.

Stella by Starlight I, Robert Colescott (American, Oakland, California 1925–2009 Tucson, Arizona), Watercolor and graphite on paper

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