Coloring Around Race: Bay Area Figurative Art and Racial Depiction

Summer 2016

Ryan Serpa : History of Art

Mentor: Darcy Grimaldo-Grigsby

My research attempts to examine the roles of race, suburbanization, and region in the context of San Francisco Bay Area art production. Specifically, I will look to the artwork of David Park and Richard Diebenkorn, two members of the prominent Bay Area Figurative School. Bay Area Figurative art developed during the 1950’s and 60’s, a period of intense development in the Bay Area that coincided with increased migration of Black residents after World War II. However, these developments did not occur on equal footing. Home loan discrimination on the basis of race drastically affected the social and physical landscape of the Bay Area during an influx of Black migrants. Both Park, in his human figural paintings, and Diebenkorn, in his landscapes, utilize color as a way to simultaneously suggest race while eluding outright reference to the reality of racial difference and its socio-political consequences. Yet, conceptions of color cannot be divorced from conceptions of race, a particularly apparent concern considering the ideologies of the Bay Area and the United States at large during the burgeoning civil rights era of the 1950's and 60's. 

I find myself in an extremely privileged position to receive funding from the generous Anselm Foundation. The additional funds and time I am now able to dedicate to my project will spark improvements far beyond its previous boundaries, allowing my work and myself to develop to their full academic potential. Indeed, my work could not exist in its full capacity without the assistance from this grant and I am exceedingly grateful for such a wonderful opportunity. I hope to produce work which will allow me to pursue further academic opportunities and expand my ambitions. I extend my sincerest thanks to the Anselm Foundation and the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.