Howardena Pindell (b. 1943)

Free, White and 21 (1980)

Howardena Pindell, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1943, to Howard and Mildred (Lewis) Douglas, is an American abstract artist. Her work explores texture, color, structures, and the process of making art; it is often political, addressing the issues of racism, feminism, violence, slavery, and exploitation. She is known for her use of unconventional materials in her paintings including string, perfume, glitter, and postcards.

Howardena Pindell is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She received her BFA from Boston University in 1965 and her MFA from Yale University in 1967. After graduating from Yale, she began working at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, where she was employed for 12 years while establishing herself as an artist. Pindell was initially a curatorial assistant, but in 1977 became associate curator of the department of Prints and Illustrated Books.

Pindell is a professor of art at Stony Brook University, where she has taught since 1979. From 1995-1999, she worked as a visiting professor in the art department at Yale University.

Pindell holds honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Parsons The New School for Design.

Pindell's 1989 painting Queens, Festival, in the lobby of the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, Queens, New York. The work is acrylic, paper, and gouache on canvas.

Pindell had known she wanted to be an artist since age 12, but it wasn't until the late sixties that, working at MoMA, she was able to produce her first accepted works. He earliest paintings had been mostly urban scenes, but in the 1970s undergoing a radical transformation as an artist, she began developing a unique style rooted in minimalism and pointillism. As she experimented with the process of creating her paintings, Pindell began making use of the scrap circles that resulted from the production of her pointillist works. As David Bourdon writes, "By 1974, Pindell developed a more three-dimensional and more personal form of pointillism, wielding a paper punch to cut out multitudes of confetti-like disks, which she dispersed with varying degrees of premeditation and randomness over the surfaces of her pictures."

Pindell's first important exhibition was at Spelman College in Atlanta in 1972, and she has exhibited in almost every following year for over 30 years, either as a solo artist, or in a group exhibition. In the 1970s and 1980s she was often aware that she had been selected for exhibition as a token black among a group of other artists, and she spent a great deal of time researching and analyzing the status of black painters in the mainstream art world.

In 1980 she made a video called Free, White, and 21, in which she appears in a blonde wig, dark glasses, and with a pale stocking over her head as a caricature of a white woman. In the 1990s she painted a series of "word" paintings, in which her body in silhouette is overlaid with words such as "slave trade," while an earlier work about South Africa features a slashed canvas roughly stitched back together and the word "INTERROGATION" laid on top.

Pindell has received numerous awards, including the Most Distinguished Body of Work or Performance Award, awarded by the College Art Association in 1990, the Studio Museum of Harlem Artist Award, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Collections of her work are worldwide including Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Detroit Institute of New York, Chase-Manhattan Bank in New York, Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York, and The Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark.