Ringgold received her art education at City College, down the street from her childhood home. “I got a fabulous education in art—wonderful teachers who taught me everything except anything about African art or African American art. But I traveled and took care of that part myself,” she’s said
. After graduating, she began her career painting landscapes and still-lifes in the style of modern European masters. But her practice quickly pivoted to focus on her own experience and the political and social tensions that surrounded her, namely the struggle for equality among women and the black community.
What inspired her?
Throughout her career, Ringgold’s work has been driven by the challenges and fulfillments of her life and the lives of those around her. “First of all, you should never make something, as an artist or even as a writer, that is outside of your experience,” she once said. “People will use what is available to them. I am black and I am a woman. There it is.”
In 1963, as the fight for racial justice animated the Civil Rights movement, Ringgold began her seminal “American People Series.” It was the artist’s first body of work to manifest her mature style—one that fused the forms and techniques of folk art with content inspired by the most vocal social critics of her time, such as the writers James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka. In an early painting from the series, The American People Series #1: Between Friends (1963), two women, one black and one white, stand close but seem to stare through each other. A red divider cuts through the center of the composition, bifurcating the two women and emphasizing their distinct experiences and, perhaps, their inability to understand one another.