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The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major

The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major

By Clarence Major
Hardcover : 9781496820686, 160 pages, 158 color illustrations, February 2019

A showcase of skillful artwork from the renowned artist


In the first volume to collect the paintings and drawings of Clarence Major, readers are offered six decades of unique, colorful, and compelling canvases and works on paper—works of singular beauty and social relevance. These works represent Major’s personal painterly journey of passionate commitment to art.

This generous selection of more than 150 paintings and drawings shows us the melding of rich ideas and fertile images, the braiding of imagination and motif. With their pleasing arrangement of elements, the works come vividly to life. Major often juxtaposes a decorative scheme with his own unique choice of color combinations, reinforced with rigorous brushstrokes that release chromatic energy. The paintings complement and challenge the great traditions of Realism, Impressionism, and Expressionism.

Major is primarily a figurative and landscape painter. Here we find landscapes of singular vitality, rich in color and design, dramatic landscapes, and cityscapes representing, among other things, Major’s extensive travels in America and Europe. We are also treated to Major’s signature figurative work. In these paintings, he ventures fearlessly into familiar yet unexpected areas of richness.

Also included is an introductory essay, “The Education of a Painter,” written by the artist, which further sheds light on and helps to lay a biographical, social, and historical foundation for this essential volume, reflecting a lifetime of serious commitment to painting at its best.


A handsomely designed hardcover with some 150 illustrations, The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major, the first published monograph on his works of art (there have been exhibition catalogues), asks us to pay the same attention to Major, the painter, as we have shown to Major, the poet and fiction writer, for the past fifty years. And to consider the relationship between painting and poetry/fiction, and how they influence each other in the works of Clarence Major.

- Uffe Sparre Fischer, African American Literature

An illuminating memoir. The works themselves are a brilliant array covering several decades of artistic exploration. Major has resolutely avoided settling into a marketable ‘brand,’ instead bringing many lenses to bear on visual reality, never abandoning representation, but always transforming the world into a new mode of perception all his own.

- Alfred Corn, poet and art critic at ARTNews and Art in America

This is an astonishing book. Major’s aesthetic sensibility provides a sumptuous intellectual and sensuous feast. He is a consummate artist with an independent vision and impeccable taste and style. The art in this magnificent volume demonstrates a brilliant eye for color and composition.

- Lauri Ramey, professor of African American literature and culture, California State University, Los Angeles

I was particularly moved by Major’s depictions of women; in their eyes and gestures, the artist suggests worlds of feeling. From his glorious use of color, to his precise sense of detail, to his ability to capture human history in the shape of a face or the curve of a leg, Major instructs, delights, and astonishes the viewer. This is a feast of a book.

- Rose Solari, author of the poetry collections The Last Girl, Orpheus in the Park, and Difficult Weather and the novel A Secret Woman

Clarence Major invites us into his magical world of colors and shapes to enjoy his painted characters in their privacy. The depicted world is playful—we see contours and poses of portraited people, and at the same time they dissolve into the vivid colorful surfaces.

- Dubravka Djurić, coeditor of Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-gardes, Neo-avant-gardes, and Post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991

Clarence Major’s visual art is flavored by the great modern painters: a powerful swirl of Modigliani, a touch of Blue Picasso, a soupçon of Cezanne—but with all that style pulled through a very different, African/Afro-Caribbean, way of seeing. The portraits here are marvelous, especially the couple of self-portraits, but there is a great deal else to admire.

- Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising and other novels

The Paintings and Drawings of Clarence Major is a beautiful, visually stunning book that charts the inspiring journey of an artist who just happens to be one of America’s most multitalented and innovative literary practitioners. I loved and learned something about art and technique on every page.

- Charles Johnson, National Book Award–winning author of Middle Passage