Titus Kaphar Biography: Artistic Journey, Notable Works, Awards And More

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Titus Kaphar

Titus Kaphar, an American contemporary painter born in 1976 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has emerged as a transformative force in the art world. His innovative approach reconfigures art history, ensuring the inclusion of African-American subjects. With his multidimensional and sculptural paintings, Kaphar challenges traditional narratives, leaving an indelible mark on prestigious collections worldwide.

Full NameTitus Kaphar
Date of Birth1976
State of OriginMichigan
Birth PlaceKalamazoo, Michigan
OccupationContemporary Painter
Alma Mater– San José State University (BFA)
– Yale University (MFA)

Background and Artistic Journey

Kaphar’s journey into art began in a junior college art history course, sparking a self-taught exploration of painting through museum visits. Graduating with a BFA from San José State University in 2001 and an MFA from Yale University, Kaphar’s work transcends conventional boundaries. His canvases, often slashed and sculptural, bring a unique dynamism to his exploration of historical themes.

Challenging Narratives through Portraiture

One of Kaphar’s groundbreaking works is a portrait of Thomas Jefferson juxtaposed with a nude portrayal of Sally Hemings. This Neoclassical-style painting challenges the power dynamics between the clothed Jefferson and the vulnerable Hemings, forcing a revision of Jefferson’s public image to include his complex relationship with his younger slave.

The Vesper Project

“The Vesper Project” stands as one of Kaphar’s most immersive installations, delving into the complexities of memory. Inspired by personal experiences, this project constructs a 19th-century house where visitors traverse a space blurred between reality and recollection. Fragments of memories, specters, and paintings coalesce, inviting participants to confront the nuanced interplay of fact and fiction.

Time Magazine Commission

Commissioned by Time magazine in 2014 to respond to the Ferguson Uprising, Kaphar created “Yet Another Fight for Remembrance.” This oil on canvas captures the essence of protest, with white paint streaks symbolizing a struggle for remembrance. Kaphar’s signature style of painting over his own work adds layers of symbolism to this powerful piece.

Behind the Myth of Benevolence

In 2014, Kaphar unveiled “Behind the Myth of Benevolence,” a striking portrayal of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Through clever use of illusion, Kaphar presents Jefferson’s portrait pulling back like a curtain, revealing a seated Hemings. This painting-within-a-painting challenges historical narratives, shedding light on the stories of Black women obscured by the deification of founding fathers.

Exhibitions: From Solo Shows to International Recognition

Kaphar’s prolific career includes solo exhibitions like “The House That Crack Built” (2000) and “Language of the Forgotten” (2019). Internationally recognized, his work “Shadows of Liberty” featured in “Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus” (2022) at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Public Collections and Notable Works

Kaphar’s works find homes in esteemed collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, and Yale University Art Gallery. Notable pieces like “Uncle Thomas” (2008) at the Seattle Art Museum and “The Cost of Removal” (2017) at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art exemplify his impactful contributions.


Kaphar’s journey is punctuated by awards acknowledging his artistic excellence. From being a California Arts Council Grantee in 2001 to receiving the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2018, each accolade underscores his significant impact on the contemporary art landscape.

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