The Jazz Singers, c. 1934<img alt="" src="/sites/GovernorsMansion/Exhibitions/PublishingImages/Art-of-Illinois/Motley-The-Jazz-Singers.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />The Jazz Singers, c. 1934<div class="ExternalClass536EEE5BACC24E16B2DD7AC13B5068AC"><p>​Arranged as if on a stage before the viewer, the oddly assorted choristers in <em>The Jazz Singers </em>vary by body type, expression, and attire, suggesting a spontaneous gathering of individuals from different social and economic spheres. United in song, they also share an identity as African Americans. Archibald J. Motley Jr. found many of his subjects in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. His images highlight the rich social variety that gave the area its legendary creative vitality in the interwar period. Motley's imagery emphasizes Bronzeville's renowned music scene, which nurtured the development of both jazz and the blues. Often featuring street musicians, club bands, and dancers, his paintings make use of syncopation, pattern, and repetition inspired by musical composition.</p><p>Motley was a well-educated, light-skinned African American who grew up in a predominantly white Chicago neighborhood and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago's prestigious school and in Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Forging an artistic career on the narrow overlapping borders of two societies separated by race, he wanted his art to bridge their divide by "express[ing] the Negro honestly and sincerely."1 In his portraits, character studies, and scenes of everyday life such as <em>The Jazz Singers, </em>Motley was the first artist, black or white, to focus on the urban context of modern African American experience. His portrayals' humor and even caricature, which may strike today's viewers as offensive, went unchallenged by the largely white art audience of his time. But they hint at the artist's somewhat ambiguous relationship to his own racial identity, and at Motley's ability to view his community critically as well as affectionately. </p><p><em>The Jazz Singers </em>is one of several works Motley made while working for Depression-era federal relief projects sometimes collectively called the WPA. Beginning in 1934, a unique government arts program funded Western Illinois University's acquisition of art for public spaces on campus, including this painting.</p></div>GP0|#c5b63dc5-4fed-41ac-8544-1d954afa2c1c;L0|#0c5b63dc5-4fed-41ac-8544-1d954afa2c1c|Archibald J. Motley Jr.;GTSet|#6a9f5109-021d-478a-ae73-864102492159;GPP|#9d68cbd3-25f3-49f0-8924-6cbe6cdb2f21;GPP|#be65f490-4890-487c-bb16-c396d99511f7TemporaryChicago, IllinoisOil on canvas, 321⁄8 × 42¼ inches. The Federal Art Project Collection of Western Illinois University: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, U.S. General Services Administration New Deal art project