Wadsworth Aikens Jarrell is an African-American painter, sculptor and printmaker. He was born in Albany, Georgia, and moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, he became heavily involved in the local art scene and through his early work he explored the working life of blacks in Chicago and found influence in the sights and sounds of jazz music. In the late 1960s he opened WJ Studio and Gallery, where he, along with his wife, Jae, hosted regional artists and musicians.
Mid-1960s Chicago saw a rise in racial violence leading to the examination of race relations and black empowerment by local artists. Jarrell became involved in the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), a group that would serve as a launching pad for the era’s black art movement. In 1967, OBAC artists created the Wall of Respect, a mural in Chicago that depicted African American heroes and is credited with triggering the political mural movement in Chicago and beyond. In 1969, Jarrell co-founded AFRICOBRA: African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. AFRICOBRA would become internationally acclaimed for their politically themed art and use of “coolade colors” in their paintings.
Jarrell’s career took him to Africa in 1977, where he found inspiration in the Senufo people of Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso. Upon return to the United States he moved to Georgia and taught at the University of Georgia. In Georgia, he began to use a bricklayer’s trowel on his canvases, creating a textured appearance within his already visually active paintings. The figures often seen in his paintings are abstract and inspired by the masks and sculptures of Nigeria. These Nigerian arts have also inspired Jarrell’s totem sculptures. Living and working in Cleveland, Jarrell continues to explore the contemporary African American experience through his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His work is found in the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, High Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem and the University of Delaware.