Black History Month Spotlight: Michael Richards

Adreon Patterson
3 min readFeb 15, 2024

Artist and sculptor Michael Richards used metaphors and allegory to center Black issues in his work. Richards spent most of his life going back and forth between his birthplace of Brooklyn, New York, and Kingston, Jamaica. The 1970s Black Arts Movement shaped her love for art as he explored his African American and Costa Rican heritages. After receiving high marks in school, he returned to the United States to earn his BFA from Queens College.

Richards’ time at Queens College led him to pursue his MA at New York University in 1991. The artist continued honing his craft by participating in the world-renowned Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. He interpreted African-American history, folklore, and iconography through bronze work. He began exploring themes of flight and planes (Tuskegee Airmen), freedom and escape, assimilation and exclusion, racial inequality, duality, and the Black church and Catholicism in his art. His time at the Whitney garnered an artist residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, spawning his best-known work, “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian.”

Over the next few years, the sculptor scored more artist residencies, including the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Oolite Arts. Securing this residency led Richards to acquire a studio in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Richards scored his first solo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art during this period. He continued exhibiting at the Chicago Cultural Center and Miami Art Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut.

Richards spent most of his time working at his “Studio in the Sky” as his art career began elevating to new heights. Unfortunately, fate cut that ascension short as the artist passed away on September 11, 2001, at the North Tower. At that time, he was working on several pieces, including the lost sculpture “Every Nigga Is a Star.” The only evidence of his final works is a series of photographs. A career retrospective called “Michael Richards: Are You Down?” was shown at several museums to commemorate September 11.

Michael Richards left an impact despite his brief time in the art spotlight. His work challenged the art world while garnering acclaim from it. The artist was one of the leading African American visual artists who pushed the exclusive art world to face its prejudices and biases. His small collection of work continues to inspire many contemporary artists. So, I say, “Mr. Richards, your life was brief, but your legacy lives on through your expression.”

…the afterlife of his artworks-especially those including airplanes, wings, and pilots-take on added prescience; the connections are astonishing, painful and powerful.

Chief Curator Linda Dougherty NCMA about Michael Richards

Originally published at on February 15, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

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