Artist to Know: Faith Ringgold

Liz Catalano
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Political Works from American Artist Offered in Black Art Auction’s Upcoming Event

Artists struggling to continue creating amid a public health crisis and the ongoing fight for racial justice may find inspiration in Faith Ringgold. “I’m just keeping my eyes wide open so I can find a point of view on all this,” the Black American artist and author told The New York Times in June of 2020. “I’ve been waiting for the inspiration that can help me inspire others.” Ringgold has spoken about many issues currently facing the United States, and she has no plans to cease her activism— or her art.

Two Faith Ringgold art pieces will hit the market in Black Art Auction’s third-ever sale this fall. Bidders can consider a 2001 acrylic and colored pencil piece alongside a lithograph supporting Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012. The auction will start on November 14th, 2020, at 12:00 PM EST. Learn about Ringgold’s story before placing a bid.

Faith Ringgold in front of California Dah #3, 1983 in her home. Image from The New York Times.
Faith Ringgold in front of California Dah #3, 1983 in her home. Image from The New York Times.

Ringgold grew up during the Great Depression in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. The daughter of a minister and a fashion designer, the young Ringgold understood the importance of telling stories in creative ways. She was also connected to a long tradition of Black American storytelling and community, one supported by the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington, and Mary McLeod Bethune were among her prominent neighbors.

After a stint teaching art in New York public schools, Ringgold eventually began telling her story through visual art. By then, it was the 1960s. The civil rights movement was beginning to accelerate, and Ringgold was aware of the brewing racial conflicts that had long plagued the United States. She took inspiration from her contemporaries, including James Baldwin and Jacob Lawrence

American People, her most widely-recognized painting series, started around this time. Ringgold drew upon her education in African arts as she entered her mature period, often exploring themes of feminism and anti-racism. Faith Ringgold paintings from the American People series can be found in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and have been exhibited across the country.

Faith Ringgold, Freedom Flag #1: On Tuesday Morning, 2001. Image from Black Art Auction.
Faith Ringgold, Freedom Flag #1: On Tuesday Morning, 2001. Image from Black Art Auction.

Ringgold consistently returned to storytelling as her career advanced. For a time, she switched from painting to sculptures inspired by traditional West African masks. She landed on quiltmaking in the 1980s. Faith Ringgold quilts bridge the usual gaps between visual and tactile art. The American flag made frequent appearances across all of her chosen mediums. Freedom Flag #1: On Tuesday Morning, an acrylic and colored pencil piece executed in 2001, continues her earlier examinations of patriotism. It features handwritten text proclaiming freedom. Behind the words, red and blue bands are striped vertically, purpling in some areas. This Faith Ringgold flag drawing will be offered in the coming auction with an estimate of USD 8,000 to $10,000.

Relatively few Faith Ringgold paintings make it to the market today. The majority belong to museums, cultural institutions, and private collections. However, Ringgold is still active and continues to produce new art. Most pieces sold within recent years were created after 1990, including a selection of Faith Ringgold quilts.  Her Listen to the Trees (1997) achieved $375,000 at Sotheby’s in 2018, far surpassing its high estimate of $120,000. Interest in her art has not waned since then. Earlier this year, Rago sold Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing (2001 – 2004) for $30,000 against a presale estimate of $18,000 to $24,000.

Faith Ringgold, Listen to the Trees, 1997. Image from Sotheby’s.
Faith Ringgold, Listen to the Trees, 1997. Image from Sotheby’s.

“I am fully aware of the attention I am now getting in the art world, and grateful,” she said in 2019. “But I am also aware that it has taken a very long time, for I had to live to be 89 years old to see it happen.” While the American consciousness turns back toward Ringgold’s rich life, the artist herself is turning toward the present. She continues to draw inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, the widening social awareness of racism, and the work that is yet to be done.

The Faith Ringgold flag drawing and election lithograph will be available with Black Art Auction at 12:00 PM EST on November 14th, 2020. Find the complete catalog and place a bid on the Black Art Auction website. 

UPDATE APRIL, 2021: Faith Ringgold’s Freedom Flag #1: On Tuesday Morning sold for $17,500 in Black Art Auction’s November event. This price landed $7,500 above the upper estimate. The drawing also achieved one of Ringgold’s highest auction results in the last two years. Few major Ringgold works have hit the auction block recently, in part because the artist slowed down after her 90th birthday. 

Faith Ringgold art pieces are particularly relevant in 2021. In her later career, Ringgold openly explored social issues such as police violence and American racism. A new Ringgold show highlighting these themes arrived in the United States in early April. Hosted by Glenstone, a private art museum in Maryland, the survey features 70 works by Ringgold. It started in London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2019 before traveling through Europe. Critics note the timing of the show’s American opening, which coincides with the trial investigating George Floyd’s death. 

To her disappointment, Ringgold could not attend the exhibition’s opening in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She still stands by her work and its place in contemporary art. “Make your art what you want it to be. And I did that,” Ringgold told The Guardian in 2021. “So all my work is there – I don’t have anything waiting in the corner that I’d like to show.”

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