College of Arts and Sciences

John Biggers

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Public Art - Murals by John Biggers

John Biggers In August 1988, Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts, Inc. visited John Biggers at his studio in Houston to select works for an upcoming exhibition. After seeing some of the murals Dr. Biggers had painted in Texas, and after learning that during his 47-year career he had not painted one in his home state of North Carolina, Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts decided to undertake a mural project for Winston-Salem.

John Biggers agreed to paint two works to be hung in the atrium of the new addition to the O'Kelly Library (then under construction). Delta Fine Arts agreed to commission the commanding paintings. The artist presented the preliminary sketches for the murals in May 1990 and began painting in July. Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts presented the murals to the university on March 28, 1992. Dr. Biggers was assisted by his nephew, James Biggers, Jr., an artist and art administrator for the Gaston County Schools.

The Biggers murals, Origins and Ascension, represent an integration of knowledge from many academic disciplines. African mythology and folklore are fused with mathematical concepts, scientific theories, literary extracts, American historical events, sociological patterns and religious beliefs.

Origins, located on the west wall of the atrium, addresses man's continuous quest to understand the forces behind the beginning of life. Ascension, on the east wall, interprets the experiences, hopes, suffering and joy of living in America. Though the dramatic images are characteristically African and African-American, the messages contained in each mural are universal and speak to all humanity. The people, animals, objects, colors, and shapes are layered with multiple meanings and symbolism. For example, the ever-present triangle represents the Egyptian pyramid, the African temple/cathedral, the ancient trinities (birth-life-death, life-death-rebirth, father-mother-child, heaven-earth-underworld) and the Holy Trinity, as well as physical stability.

John Biggers, a leading artist in America today, is internationally known as a painter, muralist, illustrator, sculptor and educator. A native of Gastonia, he studied at Hampton University and at Pennsylvania State University, where he earned the bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. He established and chaired for 34 years the Department of Art at Texas Southern University in Houston, before retiring in 1983. In 1988, he was recognized as the Texas Artist of the Year.

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