If we don’t amend history by making new images and new representations, we are always going to be excluding ourselves.
Painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist Titus Kaphar confronts history by dismantling classical structures and styles of visual representation in Western art in order to subvert them. Dislodging entrenched narratives from their status as “past” so as to understand and estimate their impact on the present, he exposes the conceptual underpinnings of contested nationalist histories and colonialist legacies and how they have served to manipulate both cultural and personal identity.
Through the deconstructive techniques of cutting, shredding, stitching, binding, and erasing both subject and support, Kaphar reconstructs new codes and modalities, reckoning on Black possibilities. In Yet Another Fight for Remembrance (2014), he used thick white brushstrokes to obscure the gesturing bodies of a group of African American men in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” position, and then repainted their outlines in black to reassert their formal presence. Thus the painting process itself became the embodiment of the ongoing struggle for social visibility and recognition. During his 2017 TED Talk, Kaphar performed, onstage, the whitewashing of his large-scale painting Shifting the Gaze (2017). Based on Frans Hals’s Family Group in a Landscape (1645–48), which portrays a wealthy Dutch family and their African servant, Kaphar’s version eclipsed the family group with white paint, shifting attention entirely to the presence of this young servant.
Kaphar’s art addresses salient social and political concerns, but it also springs from his own life story. For example, his encounter with his estranged father, Jerome, has led to an ongoing multimedia exploration of the criminal justice system called The Jerome Project (2014–). This series of portraits began with Kaphar’s online discovery of the mug shots of ninety-seven African American men who shared his father’s first and last names. He paints gilded portraits of each man in the style of Byzantine devotional icons, and then dips them in tar. Initially, the depth to which each painting was immersed in tar corresponded to the time that each subject had spent behind bars; in later paintings, this has increased to represent the longer-term implications of social silencing that results from their incarceration.
In works such as Behind the Myth of Benevolence (2014) and the series Seeing Through Time (2017–), Kaphar instrumentalizes the visual strategies and methods of key European classicists such as Diego Velázquez, Jacques-Louis David, and Théodore Géricault to rewrite the narratives of cultural empowerment with Black subjects. And just as historical conditions and contexts prompted artists of the twentieth century to generate radical aesthetic concepts and modes—consider the traumatic inspiration of the Second World War for artists globally, from Pablo Picasso and Albert Burri to Ibrahim El-Salahi and Norman Lewis—so is Kaphar’s subject matter responsive to the self-evident anxieties of present-day America. In his latest series of paintings, From a Tropical Space (2019–), he creates a surreal, emotionally intense landscape that is uniquely his own and firmly rooted in the present, drawing on his exhaustive study of nineteenth-century painting techniques. The saturated, artificial coloration of the suburban environments against which women and the silhouettes of their absent children are set both complicates and adds tension to these charged and enigmatic genre scenes. Coincident with renewed sociopolitical energies and content within the broader practice of figurative painting, Kaphar’s images resonate with the turbulent and uncertain times in which we live.
Key to Kaphar’s representation by Gagosian is the gallery’s substantive support for NXTHVN (Next Haven), a nonprofit arts hub that Kaphar founded with Jason Price and Jonathan Brand in 2015 in the Dixwell neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut. Nurturing creative talent within and beyond the local community, NXTHVN offers fellowships, residencies, and other professional development opportunities to artists, curators, and students. Housed in two repurposed factory buildings, it maintains exhibition and performance spaces in addition to studio and co-working facilities.
NXTHVN is a new national arts model that empowers emerging artists and curators of color through education and access. Through intergenerational mentorship, professional development, and cross-sector collaboration, NXTHVN accelerates professional careers in the arts. Join Titus Kaphar and Jason Price on a tour of the organization’s headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. They discuss the founding and vision for this singular arts space.
Titus Kaphar: From a Tropical Space
Join the artist in his studio in New Haven, Connecticut, where he speaks about his latest paintings.
Titus Kaphar: Can Beauty Open Our Hearts to Difficult Conversations?
In this TED talk, presented during the sweeping protests against racism and police violence following the killing of George Floyd, Titus Kaphar describes how the beauty of a painting can draw the viewer in and allow difficult conversations to emerge. Kaphar discusses his own work and shares the idea behind NXTHVN, a new national arts model he founded to empower artists of color through education and access.
Seeing the Child: Braiding possibility
Titus Kaphar and Tochi Onyebuchi present an excerpt from their short story “Seeing the Child,” a poetic rumination on Kaphar’s latest body of work, From a Tropical Space (2019–).
Titus Kaphar: In the Studio
Jacoba Urist reports on a recent trip to the artist’s studio in New Haven, Connecticut, to see his new body of work, From a Tropical Space (2019–). She writes on the emotional and sensory impact of these paintings and considers their singular place in Titus Kaphar’s oeuvre.
Titus Kaphar: Intricate Illusion
Bridget R. Cooks investigates the aesthetic and narrative conventions deployed by the artist, demonstrating how his paintings force provocative confrontations with history through complex modes of depiction.
Titus Kaphar: Can Art Amend History?
Join Titus Kaphar as he talks about making paintings and sculptures that wrestle with the struggles of the past while speaking to the diversity and advances of the present. Working onstage, he points to the narratives coded in the language of art history as he creates a new painting, demonstrating how shifting our focus can prompt us to ask questions and confront unspoken truths.
2020 WSJ Magazine Innovator Award
On November 11, 2020, Titus Kaphar was honored at the 2020 WSJ Magazine Innovator Awards, which has been recognizing inspiring talents from a variety of cultural pursuits for a decade. The musician and producer Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean presented the Art Innovator award to Kaphar, whose work explores the limited representation of Black people in Western painting and whose multidisciplinary arts incubator, NXTHVN, breaks the mold for nonprofit organizations. In the past the red-carpet event has been held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, but this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was filmed. To watch the ceremony, visit the WSJ Magazine’s YouTube channel.
Titus Kaphar in his studio, New Haven, Connecticut, 2020. Artwork © Titus Kaphar
FT Weekend Digital Festival 2020
Titus Kaphar and Jan Dalley
Friday, September 4, 2020, 8:42am edt (1:42pm BST)
As part of this year’s FT Weekend Digital Festival, Titus Kaphar will speak with Jan Dalley about the driving forces behind his work, as well as his nonprofit arts incubator, NXTHVN, which harnesses the power of creativity and education to change lives. During the conversation, a Gagosian Quarterly video about NXTHVN will premiere.
Gagosian is partnering to host the arts program throughout the three-day virtual event. Recent Gagosian Quarterly films on Dan Colen, Theaster Gates, Jenny Saville, Sarah Sze, and Stanley Whitney, will be screened between the sessions. To join, purchase tickets at ftweekend.live.ft.com.
Titus Kaphar at NXTHVN, New Haven, Connecticut, 2020. Photo: John Dennis
Gagosian and NXTHVN
Three New Programming and Funding Initiatives
Gagosian is pleased to announce three new initiatives in conjunction with its support of NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. First, the gallery will endow the paid NXTHVN Apprenticeship Program for students from local high schools. Second, it will launch a professional development program for NXTHVN Fellows, adding to the organization’s existing education projects through discussions and studio visits with Gagosian staff. Finally, it will offer sales support to Pleading Freedom, an exhibition at the NXTHVN Gallery to raise funds for work toward racial justice.
NXTHVN is a new national arts model established by Titus Kaphar with cofounder and chairman of the board Jason Price and cofounder Jonathan Brand, which empowers artists and curators of color through education and access, mentorship and collaboration. NXTHVN connects high school students, early-career artists, and creative professionals with resources and networks vital to their success.
Left to right: Titus Kaphar, Nico Wheadon, and 2020–21 NXTHVN Fellows, New Haven, Connecticut. Photo: John Dennis, courtesy NXTHVN
Reflection, Resilience, and Resistance in the Art of Our Time
Through March 20, 2022
Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Slipstream draws examples from Brooklyn Museum’s contemporary art collection to contemplate the profound disruption that occurred in 2020. Borrowing its title from an aeronautical term that refers to the pull of the current that is left in the wake of a large and powerful object, the exhibition examines the placement and displacement of power that runs through American history and continues today. The show features more than sixty works by multiple generations of artists from the 1960s to the present day, including Titus Kaphar and Taryn Simon.
Taryn Simon, Press XL, from the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015, Brooklyn Museum, New York © Taryn Simon
Through October 24, 2021
Boghossian Foundation, Brussels
From early European and Middle Eastern artifacts to modern and contemporary works, icons have inspired many believers, as well as artists, throughout the ages. This exhibition explores how spiritual dimensions have been incorporated into artworks from antiquity to the present day. Work by Michael Craig-Martin, Ellen Gallagher, Douglas Gordon, Duane Hanson, Titus Kaphar, and Andy Warhol is included.
Ellen Gallagher, Untitled, 2000 © Ellen Gallagher
New Symphony of Time
Opened September 7, 2019
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson
New Symphony of Time expands the boundaries of Mississippi’s identity, casting light on a shared past to help reflect an expansive, more inclusive future. The exhibition aims to explore personal and collective memory, history and the connection to place, and the roles artists play in pursuit of civil rights and racial equity through ancestry. Themes include migration, movement, and home; shared humanity; environment; and liberty. Work by Titus Kaphar and Sally Mann is included.
Sally Mann, Deep South, Untitled (Emmett Till River Bank), 1998 © Sally Mann
Riffs and Relations
African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition
February 29, 2020–January 3, 2021
Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
This exhibition presents works by African American artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries alongside works by European artists from the early twentieth century. The show aims to examine cross-cultural conversations and presents the divergent works that reflect these complex dialogues. Work by Ellen Gallagher, Titus Kaphar, and Pablo Picasso is included.
Titus Kaphar, Pushing Back the Light, 2012 © Titus Kaphar