American artist Brenna Youngblood works with photo-based collage, painting, assemblage, and sculpture to show the urban and suburban African American experience. Originally trained as a photographer, Brenna Youngblood borrows photomontage and collage techniques to build the surfaces of her paintings, which address the language and politics of abstraction.
Youngblood, raised in California, lives and works in Los Angeles. She received her B.F.A. from California State University, Long Beach in 2002. In 2006, she received her M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, photographer Catherine Opie was her mentor and pushed her to keep her nerve when it came to the production of her work.
Trained as a photographer, her early works are layered photomontage drawn from everyday life, incorporating images of family members, storefronts, police cars, domestic items, and found objects into her painting compositions. Youngblood acknowledges the tradition of assemblage in her use of these objects “to make something new out of something old.” Her later pieces show her version of abstraction with a slight nod to reality in painterly, gestural work, grounded by architectural and social cues and referred to by her as “landscapes.”
Her 2006 mixed-media “Monitor” explored her personal identity and her experience of urban life as an African American. She incorporated a photograph of an everyday domestic object, a television monitor, onto layered wooden panels. She then painted it with elements of collage and added papers that she “decolages” to create a multi-textured surface, that resembled rusty metal.
Her work at times deals with political subjects and social issues as she explores African American identity and representation, referencing historical moments in African American history. Her 2015 paper and acrylic work on canvas, entitled “X,” is a richly textured black field, divided and crossed out with a roughly-painted white ‘X’ mark – an abstract sign or a cancellation mark, which also references Civil Rights leader Malcolm X. Her 2017 sculpture “M.I.A.” refers to the Montgomery Improvement Association, which Martin Luther King helped organize in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Her mixed-media “3 dollar bill (dirty money)” shows three enlarged portraits of George Washington worked into the scarred surface of a large abstract painting.
Youngblood has been chosen as one of seven Black artists to create a work for Destination Crenshaw, a 1.3-mile cultural corridor on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She is creating a bronze text sculpture, some 8-feet tall, which is part of a series exposing language and identity. This piece works with the previously mentioned sculpture “M.I.A.” Her new work looks like a children’s toy of stacked blocks. She has arranged the letters to read “I AM,” which refers to the 1986 civil rights movement where protestors’ signs read “I AM A MAN.”
Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Pomona College Museum of Art, NationalMuseum of Women in the Art, California African American Museum, Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
She has had solo exhibitions at Seattle Art Museum, where she was the 2015 recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight/Jacob Lawrence Prize, the Hammer Museum, galleries in California, New York, Brussels, and Berlin, and most recently at the Riverside Art Museum.
Her work is in the public collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, and others.