African American Beverly Buchanan was a multi-faceted artist – a painter, sculptor, abstract expressionist, photographer, mixed- media, video artist, and creator of land art. Artwork for her was political and personal as she addressed the character and history of the American South. Her signature image in paintings and sculptures was the shack, the dwelling place of the poor. Her loose interpretations of Southern shacks were painted with simplicity in bright colors that evoked feelings of warmth.
She was born in the South where scenes of rural life impacted on her art’s subject matter. She graduated in 1962 with a B.S. degree from Bennet College in North Carolina. In 1968, she received her M.S. in parasitology from Columbia university and her Master’s degree in public health the following year. She attended New York’s Art Students League in 1971 where she met the African American artist Romare Bearden. She left a successful public health career in New York and New Jersey to become an artist. In 1977, she relocated to Macon, Georgia after a few well-received art exhibitions in the 1970s.
She was greatly influenced by Betye Saar and – like her – was known for creating works in a series. Two of these were “”Black Walls,” paintings on paper done in the 1970s and “Shack Works,” paintings, photographs, and sculptures from the 1980s and 1990s. She gave a regal sense to the shacks of sharecroppers and migrant workers with her use of rich and vibrant colors in settings of flowers and overgrown grass. She also made sculptures of shack homes and barns which recalled the rural South and its people. Some of her “Shack Works” sculptures became room-size installations.
In addition to paintings and sculptures, Buchanan made site-specific earthworks in cement or clay, arranged in rows and placed on low platforms, which would succumb to the forces of nature. One such earthwork was her 1981 “Marsh Ruins,” set in Georgia’s Marshes of Glynn, not far from St. Simons Island, where a group of Igbo slaves committed communal suicide in 1803. There she planted three concrete forms and covered them in a layer of sand, water, and lime, materials used in the construction of plantations and slave living quarters. When “Marsh Ruins” cracked and sunk into the mud, Buchanan captured this on video.
She received numerous grants and awards, including an N.E.A. Grant and Fellowship; Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; and Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award. In 2011, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art. In 2016, there was an exhibition of her work at the Brooklyn Museum.
Her work is in the permanent collections of museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Montclair Museum of Art, Museum of Art and Science in Georgia, Newark Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, Chrysler Art Museum, and Tampa Museum of Art.