b. 1934, United States

Raymond Saunders Biography

In his works, Raymond Saunders brings together his extensive formal training with his own observations and lived experience. His assemblage-style paintings frequently begin with a monochromatic black ground elaborated with white chalk—both a pointed reversal of the traditional figure-ground relationship and a nod to Saunders's decades spent as a teacher.

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He subsequently adds a range of other markings, materials, and talismans. Expressionistic swaths of paint, minimalist motifs, line drawings, and passages of vibrant colour tangle with found objects, signs, and doors collected from his urban environment, creating unexpected visual rhymes and resonances that reward careful and sustained looking. At once deliberately constructed and improvisatory, didactic and deeply felt, these richly built surfaces conjure the fullness of life, and its complications, allowing for a vast and nuanced multiplicity of meanings.

Saunders's singular aesthetic finds echoes in the work of artists ranging from Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg to Joseph Beuys and Jean-Michel Basquiat, but remains unmistakably his own. As curator Connie H. Choi of The Studio Museum in Harlem describes, 'Sights and sounds pass by as one moves along a city street, encountering the world, making decisions, and changing one's mind as one goes. Such is the beauty of Saunders's paintings. They are about life and all of its battles and victories, dirtiness and splendor.'

Born in 1934 in Pittsburgh, Saunders first studied art in the city's public schools, participating in a program for artistically gifted students. His mentor, Joseph C. Fitzpatrick, the director of art for Pittsburgh public schools, also taught artists including Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, and Mel Bochner. Through Fitzpatrick's support and encouragement, Saunders earned a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, also taking courses at the Barnes Foundation organized through the University of Pennsylvania, before returning to Pittsburgh and earning his BFA from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1960. He subsequently earned an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland in 1961. In 1968, he accepted a teaching position at California State University, Hayward, eventually joining the faculty of his alma mater (now California College of the Arts), where he remains professor emeritus.

In 1967, Saunders achieved wide recognition when he published the pamphlet Black Is a Color as a rebuttal to an article by the writer Ishmael Reed about the Black Arts Movement. In this text, Saunders argues powerfully that Reed fails to capture the vastness of Black expression and in doing so siloes Black artists and their work as delimited by the category of race alone. He concludes with the imperative that we necessarily separate identity from artistic output, that 'we get clear of these degrading limitations, and recognise the wider reality of art, where colour is the means, not the end.'

Saunders has been the recipient of honours such as a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1963), a Ford Foundation Award (1964), a Rome Prize Fellowship (1964), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1976), and two National Endowment for the Arts Awards (1977, 1984).

Text courtesy David Zwirner.

Raymond Saunders
featured artworks

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Passages: East, West 1 by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Passages: East, West 1, 1987 Acrylic, spray paint, chalk, collage, and mixed media on canvas
200.7 x 193 x 3.8 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Untitled, 1995 Acrylic, spray paint, chalk, collage, and mixed media on doors in five (5) parts
200.7 x 76.2 x 3.8 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Untitled, 1989 Acrylic, chalk, collage, and mixed media on canvas on wood panel
157.8 x 121.9 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Untitled, 1990 Acrylic and chalk on plywood
121.9 x 101.3 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Post No Bills by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Post No Bills, 1968 Acrylic, collage, and mixed media on canvas
204.5 x 121.9 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
I Don't Go To Church Anymore by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Raymond Saunders I Don't Go To Church Anymore, 1975 Acrylic, spray paint, chalk, collage, and mixed media on canvas
218.4 x 212.1 x 5.7 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Drawing a Still Life by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork painting
Raymond Saunders Drawing a Still Life, 1987 Acrylic, ink, chalk, graphite, collage, and mixed media on canvas
199.4 x 152.4 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Raymond Saunders contemporary artwork mixed media
Raymond Saunders Untitled Mixed media on board
122.2 x 98.1 cm
Kavi Gupta Request Price & Availability
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Raymond Saunders
current & recent
exhibitions

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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in New York: 19th Street, United States
David Zwirner Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris
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