by Catherine Watts
When I first came across the work of Titus Kaphar, it immediately stopped me in my tracks and captivated me. On a recent first-time visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Titus Kaphar’s art had an entire exhibit showroom dedicated to it. His art resonated with me not just as an art lover, but also as a black woman. Kaphar’s work explores the long and complicated past of slavery and racism in the United States. Although we can never erase that history and the pain it elicits, Kaphar shows that we can learn from it by boldly addressing it.
About Titus Kaphar
Born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Titus Kaphar was first introduced to art while taking an art history course in college. During that time he taught himself to paint by visiting museums in the area.
Kaphar’s work often incorporates multidimensional and sculptural aspects. In some of his art, canvases are slashed and dangling off the frame, or hanging over another painting. By using techniques including cutting, crumpling, and shredding, Kaphar creates art that acknowledges the unspoken truths of history.
One such example is his portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Painted in the neoclassical style, Kaphar then attached a nude portrait of Sally Hemmings’ in the corner, underneath Thomas Jefferson’s portrait painting. This piece, in particular, spoke to me as a University of Virginia graduate who has always had mixed feelings towards her supposedly benevolent school founder.
Where You Can Find His Work
Today, Kaphar is the co-founder and CEO of NXTHVN. NXTHVN offers fully-funded fellowships and paid mentorship opportunities to emerging artists and curators.
Kaphar’s work has been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius” grants which come with a $625,000 award. You can hear Titus talk about his winning of the MacArthur Fellowship and more about his artistic mission in his most recent interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly here.