Oral Histories

Interview of John W. Outterbridge

African American artist and community-activist. First director of the Watts Towers Art Center in Los Angeles.
African-American Artists of Los Angeles: John W. Outterbridge
African American Artists of Los Angeles
African American History
Biographical Note:
African American artist and community-activist. First director of the Watts Towers Art Center in Los Angeles.
Smith, Richard Candida
Outterbridge, John W.
Persons Present:
Outterbridge and Smith; John Eric Priestley in November 20, 1989 session.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I-X: Watts Towers Arts Center, Los Angeles; Tapes XI-XVIII: Outterbridge's home in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Richard Candida Smith, Principal Editor, Oral History Program, UCLA. B.A., Theater Arts, Ph.D., History, UCLA.Prior to beginning the interview, Smith was already familiar with Outterbridge's work. Smith prepared for the interview by examining publications and exhibition catalogs on African-American art, by reviewing slides of Outterbridge's work, and by discussing the interviewee's career with curators from the Palos Verdes Arts Center and the California Afro-American Museum and with former associates at the Pasadena Art Museum. John Eric Priestley and Rochelle Nicholas from the Watts Towers Arts Center were particularly helpful in suggesting areas for discussion.
Processing of Interview:
Steven J. Novak, editor, edited the interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.The edited transcript was sent to Outterbridge for review in January 1992. Outterbridge did not return the transcript. As a result, the transcript was completed without interviewee corrections or additions. Alex Cline, editor, prepared the table of contents and biographical summary. The interviewer prepared the interview history. Lisa Magee, editorial assistant, compiled the index.
19.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series African American Artists of Los Angeles document significant African American Artists and others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who have worked to expand exhibition opportunities and public support for African American visual culture. The series was made possible in part by support from the UCLA Center for African American Studies, Institute of American Cultures.
Childhood in Greenville, North Carolina--Father, John Ivery Outterbridge--First art teacher, Madge B. Allen--Relatives and colorful characters in his childhood.
Racial mixture growing up--Hollowell's drugstore-Segregation--Impact of black veterans returning from World War II--Evidence of African heritage in Greenville--Objects Outterbridge remembers from his childhood--More friends and relatives--Work and college plans.
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University--Artistic talent as a youngster--Working to provide finances for college--Volunteers for the military--Army training--Being stationed in Germany--Painting in the army.
Racial relations in the military--Feelings about war--Experiences in Germany--Aspirations to study art in Paris--Early hobbies and interests--Decision to attend the American Academy of Art in Chicago.
Brothers and sisters--More on family and relatives--Hometown culture, artists, and craftspeople--More on parents--Personal view of art.
The America Outterbridge grew up knowing versus the America he encountered in the military--The decision not to stay in North Carolina--The American Academy of Art in Chicago--Exposure to black artists--A South Side artist's collective--Archibald Motley, Jr.--Religion and art.
Racism prevents Outterbridge from selling through galleries--Early work--Exploring different media--Carl Gray--Relationship with North Side artists--The beat scene--Singing jazz with Opus de Four--Landlady, Mrs. Harkness.
The death of Mrs. Harkness and the unearthing of her riches--Meets wife, Beverly McKissick Outterbridge--Racial issues in Chicago in the late fifties--Race and religion.
Awareness of black artists in Chicago--The decision to move to Los Angeles--Early impressions of Los Angeles--Curtis Tann--Working for lamp designer Tony Hill--Bobby Gilmore--Melvin Edwards--Early, informal exhibitions--Lack of interest in commercial art--Working for Artcraft.
Organizing a walkout at Artcraft--Copying a painting on a bet--Begins doing more sculpture.
More on artists in Chicago--Using new materials--Working with metal--Pieces stolen from a gallery--Note for a Bootblack--Song for My Father--Robert Ames and Brock King.
More about Artcraft and the Artisans Guild--The Ragman series--Pig Painted Blue and other pieces using fabric--Use of the cross as a symbol--Mood Ghetto--Reasons for evolving from painting on canvas to three-dimensional, mixed-media works--Drawing classes at Art Center School of Design--William Pajaud and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company art collection.
Noah Purifoy and other Los Angeles artists--Dialogue with artists during the sixties--David Mann--Art and the socio-political climate of the sixties--Confronts art critic William Wilson--One-man show at Brockman Gallery--O Speak, Speak created for Jim Woods's "Ceremony of the Land."
The destruction of 0 Speak, Speak--John Riddle and the Black Arts Council--Balancing part-time employment and work as an artist--Brockman Gallery and Gallery 32--Samella S. Lewis--Charles E. White--Cecil Fergerson and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art--E. J. Montgomery.