Week Fourteen

Della Wells

Della Wells, from the Little Colored Girl Series. From left to right, "Bucky Naked Little Colored Girl," "I Carry My Sweet Melon Proudly," "Me, She, He He He And I Am Not Laughing." All ink on paper, 8 x 6 inches. $150 (unframed)
Della Wells
Little Colored Girl Series, 
"I understand Little Colored Girl, That I Must Rein in My Chicken Before I can Be,"  2020.
Ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches. $300 (unframed) 


Welcome to Week FOURTEEN of PSG on PAPER, Portrait Society's on-line drawing exhibition. This week we are very excited to present new drawings by Della Wells. 

Known for her collages, Della Wells also regularly makes ink and pastel drawings and fabric dolls. In many ways, her entire body of work dating from 1993 when she started making art could be seen as a continuous narrative: Personal, global and art histories are layered within a social justice landscape pitted with the triumphs and difficulties of being an African American woman in America. 

Wells believes that history must be studied and understood because it is remembered and written in a way that does not grant power to those who deserve it.  Each image is a fabulist tutorial that presents and promotes female wisdom, strength, and fortitude via symbolic content. A character named Miss Anne recurs as a cruel mistress from plantation era slavery. Chickens appear in nearly every picture symbolizing Wells' childhood awareness of death and regeneration. The watermelon, a symbol of degradation, is pridefully adopted and given new agency.  

Many of these new drawings are from Della's on-going series, "Little Colored Girl."

Della states:  "The Little Colored Girl represents the reality for so many black women and girls that when American society sees black women and girls they only see the blackness of her skin and soul, not who she really is. The Little Colored Girl uses this blindness to her advantage and to accomplish great things. She knows there is power in this because people don’t expect that she is a powerful being. She is based on women in my life and women I learned about who rose over racism, sexism and other isms such as my Godmother Francis Larson, Fannie Lou Hammer, Ella Walker, Ella Baker, Oprah Winfrey, Harriet Tubman , Whoopi Goldberg, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and others. There were those that did not and could not see their power but as Maya Angelou poem infers still she rises."

PSG on PAPER is a weekly

on-line drawing exhibition

April through July, 2020

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Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present PSG on PAPER, an exhibition about drawing. Each week, the gallery presents the work of one artist. 

All of the work can be purchased on the website's Store (above in menu). We will porch deliver anywhere in the MIlwaukee area free of charge. 


Other participating artists in PSG on PAPER include: Emily Belknap (Week Ten), Steve Burnham (Week Nine), Skully Gustafson (Week One), Pat Hidson (Week Three), Nykoli Koslow (Week Two), Ashley Lusietto (Week Five), David Niec (Week Eleven), Rosemary Ollison (Week Seven), Amy O'Neill (Week Eight), Mark Ottens, Nirmal Raja (Week Twelve), Rafael Francisco Salas (Week Six), Della Wells, M.C. Winston (Week Four), Christopher T. Wood. 

Della Wells, 2020.  Studio portrait, 2020. Both photos, Andrea Skyberg. 


Della Wells was one of the two recipients of the City of Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year Award in 2016. Her work has appeared in various publications including "Self Taught, Outsider and Folk Art Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources" by Betty-Carol Sellen and Cynthia J. Johnanson;  "Permission To Paint Please: A 150 Year History of African American Artists in Wisconsin" by Evelyn Patricia Terry; "100 Years of Collage and Assemblage in American Art," Leslie Umberger, 2008; "Miracles of the Spirit," Don Herbert Krug, Ann Parker, University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

Her work was included in the 2019 Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; "Her Story, My Dreams: The Images of Della Wells,” Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, 2018 (solo); "Another Happy Mambo Day: The Invented worlds of Della Wells,” Wright Museum, Beloit College, 2017 (solo); "New Horizons: Self-Taught Art of the 21st Century," Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, NC, 2017; "The Line I Follow: Drawings, Pastels, and Paintings," Pitch Project, Milwaukee, WI (solo), 2017; "Wisconsin 30," Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, 2013, in conjunction with the 30 Americans exhibition. Wells has exhibited in Europe and throughout the U.S. Portrait Society Gallery presents her work annually at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. Her work is currently included in 
"This is America," at 5 Points Gallery, Milwaukee. 

A play about her life, “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly” was commissioned by First Stage Children's Theatre and selected to be read at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. She has illustrated two children’s books. The Electric Angel was published in 2017. 


Each week we ask other artists in the show and sometimes special guests to comment about the featured artist's work. 

Rafael Francisco Salas

I see the future. This is the title of one of Della Wells recent ink drawings. In it, we see a young black woman facing left. In the background a second figure in a hat stands behind the horizon and a third face floats emitting rays of energy, or light. It is a mysterious, packed composition. 

Wells is an artist who creates worlds inhabited by black people in quotidian moments as well as magical-realist fantasy. In this way her artwork aligns with that of Romare Bearden and  Marc Chagall. It is invested with mythology as well the mundane. 

As the girl is facing left, it appears visually as if she is looking backwards, into the past. Perhaps this is appropriate. She looks back to see the future. Her face is stoic and powerful and seems to bear the weight of what she observes. And yet the landscape and other faces speak of an almost beatific serenity. The three faces together create a triumvirate of purpose. It is this complexity that keeps me engaged. Della Wells draws with a hand both impetuous and refined, playful and yet full of psychological weight. 

David Niec

Whether the characters of Della's drawings look at me sideways, look straight out at me or gaze out into the distance, I imagine there is a world behind their expressions. The backgrounds sometimes appear as a kind of stage for a character to exist. Even when there is very little background, there is a life that underlies these images. Much of that life is left to my imagination, however determination and tenacity are a couple words that come to mind.

These drawings seem to be made with a controlled and determined line. This enhances their directness in a wonderful way.


Tony Nickalls (PSG assistant)

These drawings of woman of all ages, who inhabit a land that is at once very real and yet full of symbols, appear somewhat mystical. While most art has some mystery this work seems to open the door for us to see that there is a depth to these women that the world too often overlooks. Their world is more real than the glazed images we see on TV. The drawings return thought and observation many fold.


Historic Third Ward

207 E. Buffalo St. Ste. 526

Milwaukee, WI 53202

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