John Anansa Biggers (1924-2001) was born and raised in North Carolina. His interest in art began with him drawing in the boiler room of the Lincoln Academy, where he was both a student and worker. These drawings were included in Biggers application to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he intended to study plumbing. Under professor Viktor Lowenfeld’s direction, he quickly changed his pursuits quickly shifted to art. While attending Hampton, Biggers was encouraged to express the social realities of his African American community and explore the complexities of racism. Read more
Additionally, his education here introduced him to African cultures and several well known artists, such as Diego Rivera, painter Charles White, sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, and writers Alain Locke and W.E. Du Boi; all of which served as significant influences to Biggers. Eventually, Lowenfeld suggested that Biggers attend Pennsylvania State University. Biggers took this suggestion and earned his Master’s, and Doctorate degrees there. Northern academia had the largest influence on his artwork as a whole, as the transition from the South to the North revealed the stark contrast with the African American communities of each. A gifted draughtsman and skilled lithographer, his work consisted of primarily in conté crayon and oil paints, enabling him to create vivid images of unidealized figures from the black urban experience coping with poverty and despair. As he continued to evolve as an artist, Biggers’ drawing, painting, and mural style transitioned once more following a UNESCO fellowship in 1956, where he traveled to Africa. His depictions of African cultures in a positive light set him aside from nearly all other American artists as only few did this. Heavily geometric in style, these paintings praised both African and African American women for their integral contributions to the world. Biggers always maintained the theme of the African and African American experience within his work, focusing on the preservation of these cultures, speaking difficult social truths, and overall celebrating his culture.