Emory Douglas talks about his graphic design work. His images have become synonymous with the visual identity of the Black Panther Party. | Video by AIGA
THE GRAPHIC IMAGES of Emory Douglas communicated the Black Panther Party’s platform and programs. From 1967 to the early 1980s he developed the organization’s visual identity. He served as Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, made its posters, and led the artistic direction of its newspaper, The Black Panther.
A half century later, Douglas’s work remains one of the strongest elements of the Panther Party’s legacy. Over the past dozen years or so his graphic images have received renewed attention through exhibitions and his participation in public programs. Last month, Douglas spoke at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Exhibitions have been presented widely from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and New Museum in New York City to the West Museumkwartier museum in Den Haag, the Netherlands (2018).
“Emory Douglas: Bold Visual Language” opens April 27 at the at the Culver Center of the Arts at UCR Arts in Riverside, Calif.
Douglas received a 2015 AIGA Medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. The professional association of design recognized his career achievements and distinct contributions to design. Accompanying the honor, AIGA made a video with Douglas in which he explains his initial exposure to graphic design and the symbolism of the many images that defined his work with the Black Panther Party.
“I was the Revolutionary Artist of the Black Panther Party,” Douglas says in the video.
Emory Douglas holds up some of his early work. | Screenshot from AIGA Video
GROWING UP in the San Francisco Bay Area, Douglas says he was arrested for shooting dice at age 13 and was sent to the California Youth Authority. While there, he got a job working in the print shop and was introduced for the first time to graphic design and learned illustration, typography, and logo design. He was later a commercial art student at San Francisco City College.
When Douglas joined the Panthers, he brought a knowledge of design, production, and printing, talents that helped amplify and disseminate the organization’s messages.
In the video, Douglas describes the mission and purpose of the Panther newspaper, which he oversaw until it ceased publication in 1979. He says the goal was to “inform, enlighten and to educate people about the basic issues in the community and to tell our story from our own perspective.”
He also explained the genesis for the style of his images. “We couldn’t hardly afford but one color ink. So it was black plus one other color to get that bold broad look,” Douglas says. “I began to mimic woodcuts with markers and pens, playing with shadows and photographs. People would get the gist of the story looking at the pictures and maybe reading the captions.”
The goal of The Black Panther newspaper was to “inform, enlighten and to educate people about the basic issues in the community and to tell our story from our own perspective.” — Emory Douglas
“Douglas’s work on the Black Panther newspaper and for the party was fearless in content and style. He was the party’s Revolutionary Artist, graphic designer, illustrator, political cartoonist, and the master craftsman of its visual identity,” Colette Gaiter writes in “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas.” “His distinctive illustration styles, cartooning skills, and resourceful collage and image recycling made the paper as explosive visually as it was verbally.”
Gaiter adds: “Douglas also served as a mentor of sorts to the other artists and designers he supervised while working for the party.”
THE NUMEROUS IMAGES Douglas created for The Black Panther newspaper are showcased in the landmark exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Organized by the Tate Modern museum in London, the traveling survey has been presented at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the Brooklyn Museum.
Featuring work by more than 60 artists made between 1963 and 1983, “Soul of a Nation” is currently on view at The Broad in Los Angeles. This fall, the exhibition will travel to the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
For the show’s presentations in New York City and Los Angeles, the public programming has emphasized the featured artists who were active in those cities. Douglas’s work speaks directly to the theme of the exhibition: art in the age of Black Power. When the show travels to the de Young—the last stop on the tour—his work will be on view near the Bay Area community where it was created.
Next month, Douglas is delivering remarks at the San Francisco Art Institute’s commencement. The school is recognizing him with its highest honor, an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts
“We were creating a culture,” Douglas says in the video, “a culture of resistance, a culture of defiance and self determination.” CT
Featuring more than 200 color full-color illustrations, “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” includes a preface by Danny Glover, a foreword by Bobby Seale, introductions by scholar Colette Gaiter and artist Sam Durant, a poem by Sonia Sanchez, and essay contributions from Kathleen Cleaver and Amiri Baraka, among others. The book also includes an interview with Emory Douglas conducted by documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne (1943-2007). First published in 2007, the volume was republished in 2014.
Emory Douglas demonstrates how he used a limited color palette to create bold, symbolic images. | Screenshot from AIGA Video
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