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Artists Past & Present:

Whitfield Lovell's Hand CollectionWhitfield Lovell's Hand Collection  

Whitfield Lovell’s
hand collection
, detail,
installation at The Andy Warhol Museum, 1998


Whitfield Lovell

Featured in: Artists Who Collect

New York-based Whitfield Lovell uses his various collections of personal and anonymous photographs, cultural symbols, Mexican folk art, and domestic artifacts as source material and inspiration for his artwork. Lovell makes portraits by primarily drawing on paper and wood panels. His earliest drawings depict family members and close friends, but his more recent portraits are based on early 20th-century studio photographs of anonymous African Americans that Lovell has collected from flea markets and antique stores.

Depicted here, Hand XIV is one in a series of life-sized charcoal-and-oil stick portraits on paper. The portrait is superimposed onto a hand, for Lovell a symbol of power and protection. In drawing these anonymous people Lovell strives to preserve their memory, struggle, and heritage. Most of his collection of studio portraits are from 1900-1940, a period Lovell refers to as the "gray area" between slavery and the Civil Rights movement. Studio portraits such as these were expensive, typically only affordable to wealthy white Americans. Their existence represents the dignity of African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

The source imagery for the hands is from Lovell’s extensive collection of hand objects and sculptures from around the world. Some of the hands in this collection are cultural symbols, such as the Hand of Fatima, a symbol in Islamic societies used in charms, jewelry, cars, and other places to ward-off the “evil eye.” Other objects are kitsch objects, such as 1950-era commercial molds for the manufacturing of latex gloves. The symbols Lovell uses in his artwork—hands, birds, houses, and hearts—are personal symbols that also have broad meanings and allow for audience interpretation.

Lovell lives and works in New York City. His artwork is influenced by his travels in Africa, Europe, and Latin America, and is inspired by memories of his family life growing up in the Bronx.

Lovell - Artists Who Collect: 2MB PDF

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