SJSU Art Alumnus Receives MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award

Titus Kaphar, '01 B.F.A., is a painter and sculptor who addresses the lack of representation of people of color in the history of Western art by appropriating Western art’s styles and mediums. Here he is pictured in his studio in New haven, CT. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Titus Kaphar, ’01 B.F.A., is a painter and sculptor who addresses the lack of representation of people of color in the history of Western art by appropriating Western art’s styles and mediums. Here he is pictured in his studio in New haven, CT. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Media Contact:
Robin McElhatton, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu, 408-924-1749

SAN JOSE, CA – The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2018 MacArthur Fellows October 4, with San Jose State University Alumnus Titus Kaphar, ’01 B.F.A., among this year’s recipients of the “genius” award. Kaphar is an artist whose paintings, sculptures and installations explore the intersection of art, history and civic agency.

“I make paintings that people perceive often as being very social or political, but for the most part they are very personal. Everything stems from my relationship to a situation, to a narrative, to a story.”

“I make paintings that people perceive often as being very social or political, but for the most part they are very personal,” he said. “Everything stems from my relationship to a situation, to a narrative, to a story.”

This is especially on display in the work he calls the Jerome Project, inspired by his father. His father, whose first name is Jerome, was in and out of jail.  At one point Kaphar searched for his father’s name online. He found his father’s mug shot, along with police photos of 97 men with the same first and last name. He began to paint the images to look like small devotionals that he then partially covered with tar.

Much of Kaphar’s work highlights the lack of representation of people of color in the canon of Western Art with works that deconstruct the literal and visual structure of the artwork. His canvases often have top layers cut away to reveal hidden images underneath. He recalled that during his time as a university student he had one art history book that had a chapter focused on black people or people of color.

“These characters are often enslaved, in servitude, or impoverished,” he said. “So it drew me to wanting to understand how this all came about in representing black people.”

Titus Kaphar displays some of his work in his New Haven, Connecticut studio.(Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Titus Kaphar displays some of his work in his New Haven, Connecticut studio. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Kaphar’s work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, Virginia), the Seattle Art Museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and Princeton University, among other venues; and he is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the Equal Justice Initiative Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, among other public collections.

In addition to his artwork and installations, Kaphar is the founder and president of NXTHVN, pronounced Next Haven. The nonprofit is creating an artist community that will provide mentorship, studio practice and professional development opportunities for recent art school graduates.

“They get a year to engage in professional art,” he said. “I was in my mid-20s when I found art so I want to help other young folks who come from the communities I came from discover their passion and what motivates them.”

Kaphar is one of 25 Fellows selected for exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on past accomplishments and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

“Working in diverse fields, from the arts and sciences to public health and civil liberties, these 25 MacArthur Fellows are solving long-standing scientific and mathematical problems, pushing art forms into new and emerging territories, and addressing the urgent needs of under-resourced communities,” said Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director, MacArthur Fellows Program. “Their exceptional creativity inspires hope in us all.”


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area. 

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