Torso, Portrait of Joan, 1960
25 3/4 x 14 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches
Signed with artist’s initials
Elizabeth Catlett was an impassioned painter, sculptor and printmaker, whose depictions of African-American women and children were used to express her notions of inequality and oppression. Catlett earned a degree in art from Howard University in 1935. She then entered graduate school at the University of Iowa where she was the recipient of the first Master of Arts degree in sculpture.
The model for Torso, Portrait of Joan is art educator, writer, actor, and political activist Joan Sandler. Catlett met Sandler in Harlem when they worked together with the peace movement of the 1960s. The nearly life-sized bust is sculpted in terracotta, a textured medium that feels both organic and natural in its unpolished state. The simplified form is brought to life through the sensuous curves and dynamic pose. As a female artist, Catlett’s depiction of nudity is neither sexualized nor passive. Rather, it represents a strong, confident African-American woman whose image resonates with her audience.