Richard Mayhew, Indigenous Spiritual Space

Richard Mayhew, Indigenous Spiritual Space (Ser. No. 7), 1993–94, oil on canvas, 84.5 × 94.6 cm (Georgia Museum of Art, Athens) © Richard Mayhew

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Key points

  • Landscape imagery has dominated Richard Mayhew’s long career, serving as a metaphor for his emotions and as a link to his Cherokee, Shinnecock, and African American heritage. His landscapes reflect a series of tensions–in terms of both formal qualities and subject matter–which are exemplified in Indigenous Spiritual Space (Ser. No. 7)
  • Drawing from the techniques of landscape traditions such as Impressionism, Tonalism, and the French Baroque as well as the processes and intentions of Abstract Expressionism, Mayhew employs color in receding layers of dynamic applications of paint to create evocative, immersive spaces. 
  • In its subject matter, Mayhew’s work addresses his individual emotions and associations between the landscape and his heritage while simultaneously contributing to a body of Black art that intentionally–and innovatively–confronts issues of civil rights and freedom. Mayhew’s involvement in the latter emerges from his participation in Spiral, a group of Black artists who came together in response to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Go deeper

Learn more about this painting at the Georgia Museum of Art

Explore an art activity based on this painting, from the Georgia Museum of Art

Learn more about Richard Mayhew in a video interview and essay from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

More to think about

Consider the question posed in the video: what does it mean to produce beautiful paintings in a time of social turmoil? Reflect on Mayhew’s work and compare it with that of Norman Lewis and Sam Gilliam, or the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Additionally, see if you can identify other artists of the same or different time periods who represent marginalized groups and whose work addresses this question.

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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