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Camille Billops

Camille Billops (b. 1933, Los Angeles, CA – d. 2019, New York, NY) was an artist whose practice spanned ceramics, printmaking, illustration, and film. Printmaking was an important part of Billops’s art practice. Originally a ceramicist, Billops first studied printmaking in 1973 under the tutelage of Romare Bearden and Krishna Reddy at Bob Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop, which served as an important community gathering place for artists of color in New York and beyond. Billops’s extensive print oeuvre spans five decades, several mediums, and diverse subject matter. She was an inventive printmaker, who experimented with varying techniques such as lithography, etching, and aquatint, among others. Drawing from her private experiences and personal visions, the artist created elaborate depictions of matters that were not typically discussed in the fine arts at the time, such as racism and motherhood.

Billops’ strong belief in the social power of art manifested in her fight for recognition and inclusion of black and women artists in the canon of art history. She was a prominent activist, participating in protests of major museums, and writer for the feminist journal Heresies. She was also an early member of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) and held regular meetings with her contemporaries about race, gender, black culture, and art in her Soho loft. Artmaking was Billops’s way of releasing her spectrum of emotions into the world while also searching for the acknowledgement of these same emotions. She was profoundly influenced by her trips abroad–to Egypt, India, Ghana, Japan, and Taiwan, among others. During these travels, she discovered foreign  concepts of race, black identity and culture, which she incorporated into her own vision of the world. In 1978, she helped Blackburn open a second printmaking workshop in Asilah, Morocco. 

Upon the recommendation of her friend, fellow artist Vivian Browne, Billops taught about the New York black artist community at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University for many years. She also was a professor at the City College of New York. Teaching was an important source of revenue for women artists at this time, and one of the few career paths available to women of color throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps one of her most notable contributions to the preservation and telling of art history is her stewardship of African American archives  that she accumulated throughout her career along with her husband, James Hatch, in their Soho loft in New York. The Hatch Billops Archives is a collection of ephemera that includes thousands of books, press clippings, interviews, installation shots, and other printed materials. The loft and its archives quickly  became a center for important black artists such as Benny Andrews, Emma Amos, Vivian Browne, Elizabeth Catlett, Herbert Gentry, David Hammons, Clifford R. Joseph, Jacob Lawrence, Howardena Pindell, and Faith Ringgold. Billops hosted meetings for the BECC, of which she was on the board, as well as published Artist and Influence: The Journal of Black American Cultural History, an annual journal featuring interviews between prominent Black cultural figures and artists. 

Billops studied at the Los Angeles State College for her undergraduate degree, received her B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1960, and her M.F.A. from the City College of New York in 1975. In 2002, the Camille Billops-James V. Hatch Collection was established at Emory University, and in 2016, they held Still Raising Hell: The Art, Activism, and Archives of Camille Billops and James V. Hatch, a retrospective exhibition of the contributions made by these remarkable artists and historians.

Billops’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, AK; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Burgess Group Fine Arts Collection, NY; Das Schubladenmuseum, Bern, CH; Donnell Media Center at the New York Public Library, NY; Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA; Hofstra University Museum of Art, NY; Jersey City Museum, NJ; K Caraccio Collection, NY; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Nasher Museum of Art, NC; Paul Jones Museum at the University of Alabama, AL; Petrucci Family Collection, NJ; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Photographers Gallery, London, UK; Robert Blackburn Print Collection, NY; Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; and the Yale University Art Gallery, CT.

Billops, along with Browne, was included in the inaugural exhibition of the historic Just Above Midtown (JAM) Gallery in 1974. A highly inventive and vibrant space for artists of color to experiment, JAM will be the subject of a milestone exhibition opening in October 2022 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2021, RYAN LEE Gallery presented a selection of her works in a landmark group exhibition entitled Friends and Agitators: Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Vivian Browne, and May Stevens, which chronicled the relationship between these four women in the Soho art scene from 1965 to 1993. Billops was also included in the exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85,” which debuted at the Brooklyn Museum in 2017 and traveled to the California African American Art Museum, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. Further, Billops has been included in exhibitions at the Hanes Gallery at Wake Forest University (2021); Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (2020, 2019); Georgia Museum of Art (2019); Driskell Center at the University of Maryland (2019); and the Delaware Art Museum (2016).

RYAN LEE Gallery represents Billops’s ceramics and original works.
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