SSCAC founder Eldzier Cortor makes historic return to the institution he helped establish

The South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) presents “An Afternoon with Eldzier Cortor” had many unforgettable moments.  Nigel Freeman of New York’s Swan Gallery interviewed Cortor in front of a packed house at the Center he and his fellow artists founded 75 years ago.  He recounted details about the Center, his contemporaries like Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Burroughs, Charles White and Gordon Parks and reminisced about the 3rd floor ballroom where they hosted events, asking was it still in tact.

Cortor, at 99, is the last surviving founder of the SSCAC and is still a practicing artist. Freeman, curator of African American Art at Swann took Cortor down memory lane during their conversation, discussing in depth his work as a printmaker known for weaving social and political themes into his work. Cortor was celebrated at the Art Institute of Chicago the night before where he received the Legends and Legacy Award.

Additionally, an exhibit of Cortor’s work was on display at both the Art Institute of Chicago and at the SSCAC.  A few pieces are still available for purchase at the SSCAC located at  3831 S. Michigan Ave.

Cortor’s family moved to Chicago from Virginia when he was an infant.  He attended Englewood High School with fellow artists White and Burroughs, later attending the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and graduating in 1936. In 1941, with funding from the Works Project Administration (WPA), Cortor helped found the South Side Community Arts Center. Cortor exhibited in the 1938 interracial art show "An Exhibition in Defense of Peace and Democracy", which was sponsored by the Chicago Artists' Group, and in 1940 he was one of the young artists to exhibit at "The Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro" in Chicago.  In his work with the WPA he primarily drew scenes of Bronzeville. The depiction of African-Americans became the defining subject of Cortor's career, specifically the portrayal of the African-American woman, which he commonly represented nude in paintings and prints. "She conveys a feeling of eternity," said Cortor. "The continuance of life. The Black woman represents the Black race. She is the Black spirit."

He received two Rosenwald Fellowships, which allowed him to travel to the Sea Islands of Georgia. Afterward, Cortor transitioned to New York, and in 1946 Life magazine published his artwork of a nude African-American female. In 1949 he received a Guggenheim fellowship, which provided the opportunity to travel to Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti. He settled in Port-au-Prince where he taught art for two years.

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About The South Side Art Center

2015 will mark the 75th anniversary of the South Side Community Art Center.  The SSCAC preserves, conserves, and promotes the legacy and future of African American art and artists while educating the community on the value of art and culture.  SSCAC is the bridge that links the history and future of visual arts through creation, preservation, education, conservation and exhibition. Through its mission and rich history, SSCAC seeks to infuse history into the future of art.

About Eldzier Cortor

Eldzier Cortor is an artist and printmaker whose work typically features elongated nude figures in intimate settings.  A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and a founder of the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), he was influenced by both traditional African art and European surrealism. He is the recipient of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Leadership Advisory Committee’s Legends and Legacy Award, an honor recognizing African American artists who have achieved national acclaim with careers spanning over 50 years. See his works on the Art Institute of Chicago’s website,+Eldzier
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