The Brown Sisters

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Marker, crayon, pencil, on paper
24 x 18 inches
Collection of
National Gallery of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Speller created inventive metaphors for the society which dangled before him more than it was willing to deliver. The women he draws are one such metaphor: fancy-dressed, snarling, threatening, and certainly tempting. Exposed breasts and genitals form a grotesque mask. These women are usually white, and they are free. Speller’s anger, though, is not directed at free white women, nor at any women; these women are merely graphic reminders of the freedom he cannot experience, of the gap between races and classes he cannot bridge. Speller adds ironic touches and comments. Nude women, for example, wear crucifixes and high-heeled shoes. To embellish the forbidden fruit simile, Speller refers to their breasts as “Christ apples.” He gives the most lascivious women the simplest southern “white lady” names: Jean, Sally, Marie, Peggy. He occasionally portrays black women, but still unattainable ones: fancy-dressed women of the streets; straight-haired “high yellows”; and educated women in graduation attire.