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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

The Garbage Man

Artist: John Anansa Thomas Biggers (1924 - 2001)
Date: 1944
40 × 33 in. (101.6 × 83.8 cm)
Framed: 47 5/8 × 40 5/8 × 1 5/8 in.
Medium: Oil on panel
Credit Line: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2016.8
Signed: l.l., in red paint: Biggers 44-1
Not on View
Accession Number: 2016.8
ProvenanceEstate of the Artist, Houston, TX, 2001; to Hazel Hales Biggers (Artist’s wife), Houston, TX; to (Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY); purchased by Merrill C. Berman, Scarsdale, NY, 2005; to (Alexandre Gallery, New York, NY), 2015; purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, 2016
Label TextA man dressed in tattered clothing moves through the debris of an empty alley, collecting discarded food items on his cart. His head and shoulders seem to carry a heavy weight, symbolically reflecting the social conditions that contribute to his scavenging activity. Painted in a colorful and mildly distorted style, the image vividly evokes the racial and economic injustices of the Jim Crow era in the United States.

John Biggers’s personal life experiences heavily influenced his work. In a career that spanned over 50 years, he drew inspiration from the people in his life and his community. The Garbage Man, painted in 1944 at age 20 while Biggers was serving in the US Navy, reflects an example of the artist’s early work that focused primarily on racial inequities. He later earned his PhD in art education and founded the art program at what is now Texas Southern University in Houston.