Skip to content

Artist Header

Al Loving

Al Loving. Photography and artwork courtesy of the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Al Loving in his studio. Photography courtesy of the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Alvin Demar Loving, Jr., also known as Al Loving, was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 19, 1935. Loving’s interest in art began at an early age by copying the drawings and watercolors in his father’s portfolios and watching his mother and grandmother quilt. His father was a trained artist and educator who worked part-time as a sign painter and eventually became a founding faculty member at the University of Michigan at Flint and the Dean of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor’s School of Education. Loving received a BFA from the University of Illinois in 1963 and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1965. 

In 1968, Loving moved to New York City, settling into the Chelsea Hotel, where he became involved with artists such as Howardena Pindell and Alan Shields. Only one year after arriving in the city, Loving famously became the first Black artist to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The works exhibited were well received, catapulting him to fame seemingly overnight, and were typical of the first phase of his multifaceted career. Inspired by Josef Albers’ investigations into the square, these early works built on strict but simple geometric shapes, often hexagonal or cubic modules, concentrating on the tensions between flatness and spatial illusion. 

Despite, or perhaps because of, the massive popularity of these hard-edge geometric paintings, Loving felt trapped within the confines of this style. In the early 1970s, he began destroying many of these paintings; he would use the scraps to create the first of his equally celebrated “torn canvases,” the second phase of his career. In this series, hundreds of pieces of cut and torn canvas or paper are woven into an abundance of overlapping patterns and shapes, their rich colors spiraling outward and engulfing the viewer. Existing at a point of convergence between the two- and three-dimensional, Loving played with the perception of pictorial and sculptural ideals by mounting the works to metal supports, so they jut out of the wall, casting shadows that effectively become a part of the composition. The forms of the torn canvases were inspired by the 1971 exhibition at the Whitney entitled  Abstract Design in American Quilts  and echoed the quilting he so intently observed as a child. 

Al Loving, 1986. Photography by Dawoud Bey. Artwork © The Estate of Al Loving. 

In the 1980s, he expanded on the torn canvases, integrating other materials into his constructions, such as corrugated cardboard and rag paper. He was particularly intrigued by the casualness of tearing up cardboard and gluing it to other materials. During this time, he began to integrate circular and spiral motifs into his work, forms he understood as an expression of growth and continued life. No matter how many times he changes styles, motifs, and techniques throughout his career, Loving remained fastidiously interested in three-dimensionality, the stylistic influence of jazz, bright color palettes, and the spiral. 

Loving was a committed educator just like his father, teaching at City College in New York from 1988 to 1996. He was widely celebrated throughout his lifetime, receiving fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1970, 1974, and 1984 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986. He has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions, including  Al Loving: Departures, Studio Museum in Harlem (1986);  Al Loving: Torn Canvas, Gary Snyder Gallery, New York (2012); and Spiral Play: Loving in the ‘80s, Art+Practice, Los Angeles and the Baltimore Museum of Art (2017-2018). 

His work can be found in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others. Al Loving passed away due to complications from lung cancer on June 21, 2005. 

quote

“Abstraction allows my paintings to speak directly to the art. My paintings are feelings and wishes. They are the embodiment of all I am and all that I have experienced.”

- AL LOVING

Back To Top