77

WINFRED REMBERT

American, 1945-2021

"Red Note Chain Gang", 2007

dye on carved and tooled leather
signed lower center "Winfred Rembert"
33 x 42 1/2 inches

  • Provenance: The artist; Private Collection, Connecticut.

    Framed dimensions: 33 3/4 x 43 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches

    "I've painted a lot of pictures of the chain gang. I believed that many people in the free world thought bad of the chain gang. They looked at the workers on the chain gang, working on the highways and in the ditches, and I believe they thought that all the guys were killers. With the paintings, I was trying to show that it wasn't that way."

    Winfred Rembert was born in Cuthbert, Georgia in 1945. As a child he picked cotton and as a teenager he was arrested in the aftermath of a civil rights demonstration. He later broke out of jail, survived a near-lynching and spent seven more years in prison where he was forced to work on a chain gang. He was released in 1974 and settled in New Haven, Connecticut. When he was fifty-one years old, encouraged by his wife Patty Gammage, he began carving and painting memories from his youth. He used leather and leather-tooling skills he had learned in prison to create his unique and colorful compositions.

    "With my paintings, I tried to make a bad situation look good. You can't make the chain gang look good in any way besides by putting it in art. Those black and white stripes look good on canvas. People can't really tell what they are until they get up close. They don't recognize those stripes as people until they take a real good look. That was my goal– to put it down so you can't understand it until you take a real up-close look. That tells you something about prison life. When you look at it from the outside, you can't see what's going on, but when you're up close you realize what you are up against." [1]

    In the present composition it appears as though the rhythmic movements of the figures are creating the musical notes superimposed on them. On closer inspection, they are picking cotton and loading it into the gray sacks carried on their backs. As in other works by Rembert, the music is likely a song connected to living a better life away from the cotton fields.

    Rembert was a self-taught artist using skills he learned in prison to create his colorful, three-dimensional compositions. As a child, he went to work on the cotton fields never learning to read or write. His intuitive sense of color and composition were recognized and in 2010 Adelson Galleries organized the first one-man show of Rembert's work in New York City. In 2000, he was the subject of a major exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery. Today, his works are displayed alongside noted African American artists including Jacob Lawrence, Hale Woodruff, Horace Pippin and Romare Bearden.

    [1] Winfred Rembert, "An Artist on How He Survived the Chain Gang," The New Yorker, May 10, 2021.


    Tags: listed artist, black artist, 20th century, 21st century, African American artist, modern / contemporary, outsider art, self-taught artist
  • Condition: in excellent original condition

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April 28, 2022 6:00 PM EDT
Milford, CT, US

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