Image: Arthello Beck, Jr., Juneteenth Picnic.
For our weekly art posting, we highlight something in honor of the day, a painting by Texas artist Arthello Beck, Jr of a Juneteenth picnic.
One of the enjoyments of doing these Saturday art posts is the serendipitous occurrences that happen when you go rummaging in the internet attic to see what you can find on a topic. Sometimes it might be the history of Japanese tea houses, or startling still life paintings. Looking for something appropriate to Juneteenth, we found what appeared to be a dormant website for Beck and a striking painting.
It captures a celebration, part of a tradition of celebrating the delayed announcement that slavery had come to an end. If you haven’t, check out the High on the Hog episode that delves into the Juneteenth celebrations and the connection to food. The painting, for us, is also reminiscent of the namesake of our weekly art series.
The serendipity comes in the figure of the artist, Arthello Beck, Jr. A bit of poking around revealed that he was born in Texas in 1941 and died in 2004. He worked various jobs before being able to sustain himself as a professional artist. He established his reputation with paintings from the civil rights struggle. He established a studio, which became a centerpiece of the Dallas area art scene in the 1970s and 80s, and was instrumental to the careers of many black artists. As of 2018, his widow Mae Beck was still operating the gallery. Grant Hill included him in his touring collection of African-American artists that toured the country. Grant was introduced to Beck by his father, who played professional football in the Dallas area. The South Dallas Cultural Center named its visual art galleries for Beck.
Joyce King, in a Dallas Morning News piece on local black artists, interviewed the artist’s widow Mae Beck. She talked about this work and his work in general. According to King Mae Beck said, “her husband’s art made black people gather around to see mirror images of themselves, on porches, or just laughing, living and struggling.”
“His Juneteenth Picnic hit me hard and it hit him hard,” Mrs. Beck paused, “because we were not allowed to go to parks in the city.”
King notes that “She talked about his enormous passion for a painting that reminded everyone of a time when black people were forced to create safe spaces to celebrate their lives and events.” Mae Beck said, “Arthello came up in the ’60s. We were like almost nobody in Dallas, invisible to people — the maids, the butlers and the cooks.”
With that in mind, on the first day that Juneteenth is a national holiday, it seems appropriate to make this piece of art a little more visible.
Normally we close out these posts with a request to check out the rest of our site and give us a follow on social media (and we still encourage that!). For today, however, we will close by encouraging you to check out someone else: the Black Art Now Instagram account, which has brought some amazing artists to our attention.