"It’s the magic that does the painting, and the magic is within. I can’t see having substance without having magic in the painting. I use hands, fingers, I’ll use anything at that point, it depends. The year, the time, or what’s near me. I believe sometimes you use the thing nearest if its possible. The nearest thing you can use for any utensil, you can finish it off with a brush, anything you want to use. The main thing is to get that idea over quickly. Because that feeling, that thought is a very short thought, As an artist it doesn’t last a long time. If you can get it down right away, work with it technically later on. For example, you see a form...should I...shouldn’t I...PUT IT DOWN! Then technically, if it doesn’t fit or you didn’t do it right, you can work with it. But that feeling, that idea, that spiritual thing, you just put it down right then!"


Gentry lived life on the move, meeting people, and painting. His personality expressed strength, concern and warmth and shaped his philosophy of art. In Gentry's art one meets an enduring artistic and creative spirit, deeply rooted in humanity.

Painting was not a "conscious thing" he would explain, "It’s part of what I am. I’m an artist. I’m not a doctor or lawyer or anything else. It’s a part of what life is about, everything I use in art."


"I grew up in Harlem, however I was born in Pittsburgh on July 17, 1919. My mother was from Jamaica, West Indies and went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in her teens, where she met my father in high school. My father became a printer, and his twin sister Victoria sang for a while with the Earl Hines Orchestra. My sister, Elsa, two years older than I, died when she was five years old from pneumonia she'd contracted when we'd both walked out in the snow. My mother was affected deeply.

I came to New York with my mother as a small child, and we lived for a time with my eight Jamaican aunts. My mother won the beauty contest at the Savoy Ballroom and became a dancer and showgirl. I remember the dressing rooms and the costumes and the beautiful women.

I became conscious of the world through my mother, through the way I was entertained by her. She took me to all kinds of places. Every Saturday I’d go downtown with her, we’d see shows, we went to museums. She and I were together, we traveled, we walked a lot. She pointed out different things to me and I spent a lot of time with her. She was very interested in people, and there were a lot of people! Most of my mother’s friends had been to Europe. A lot of them were singers, dancers, some were directors of shows, a few were writers.

Mrs. Loeser, my junior high school teacher appointed me the class artist, so I did most of the art projects in the class. Even in high school, George Washington High School, I did the posters - all the art posters, and other art assignments, After that I attended art classes at the Y.M.C.A. in Harlem and took classes at Roosevelt High School under the W.P.A. Program. I met many artists, mostly performing artists, writers, photographers and musicians - Jules Bledsoe, Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Ethyl Barrymore."

At the age of eleven, Herbert won the role of " Big Boy" in the Ethyl Barrymore production of the play Scarlet Sister Mary. As a child actor, he traveled on the road with the theater company and was part of the opening night cast on Broadway. The Time Magazine review opens a window to thecomplex racial subtext of the period.

Time Magazine reviews Ethyl Barrymore in Scarlet Sister Mary

"I never felt that I was localized, that I had to stay in a certain area. That’s why when I grew up and had my own life, I never stayed only on the block that I lived on. I would go somewhere else, meet other people.

I've lived in a lot of places. From my initial foreign experience in World War II as a soldier in North Africa, Corsica, Italy, Germany, Austria , France, I arrived -and returned to - Paris. I did my studies painting on the G.I.Bill at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere; opened a club-galerie in Montparnasse; paid my artist dues and was inspired by the many people I met, like Richard Wright, Kenny Clarke, Juliette Greco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Chester Himes, George Braque, Larry Rivers, Kosta Alex, Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Giacometti, mentors, friends and acquaintances. I still live the cafe life.

I was invited to exhibit in Copenhagen in 1959 which became a base for me until 1964 when I moved to Gothenberg and later Stockholm, Sweden, but I continued to keep a studio in Paris. There's always been an opportunity to exhibit, and I've always managed to live as an artist. About 1972, I included New York in my rotation of art worlds. I am presently living and working in New York City. I always say that Harlem prepared me for Paris! (Herbert Gentry, 1996)

Paris brought Gentry together with artists, writers, painters, musicians and entertainers who were part of different communities, European and American expatriate, African diaspora, and others. Gentry's experiences. In February 2010 the American Embassy in Paris hosted a lecture about the African American expatriates of the 1950s. This community can be further studied in bibliographic resources such as From Harlem to Paris. Gentry was associated with jazz in Paris and these jazz circles converged during the early 1950s in Paris at The Mars Club.

May 23, 1991

Conducted by Liza Kirwin, this interview with Herbert Gentry for the Smithosonian Archives of American Art is part of their Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

Gentry recalls his childhood in Harlem; musicians he met and was influenced by, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie; studies at New York University and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and L'Academie de la Grand Chaumiere under the G.I. Bill; his jazz club/gallery in Montparnasse; friendships with Romare Bearden and Beauford Delaney; early exhibitions; his marriages; identification with the European artist group CoBrA; and studios in Sweden and New York.

Interview with Herbert Gentry

Portraits by Photographers
A number of photographers photographed Gentry and some have his photo on their website. The portrait on the sidebar is one of two artist portraits by the Swedish photographer Ewa Rudling. Photographer TAR captured Herb in text and photograph recalling his studio visit at the Chelsea Hotel in Reflections by TAR. Then there is Dutch photographer Hans Van der Kamp who made a wonderful portrait at the Chelsea Hotel of Herb and Vincent Smith in 1982. A 1959 portrait by Danish photographer Steve Harder was reproduced that year in Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.
Gentry and Scandinavia
Herbert Gentry ventured beyond Paris in the late 1950s to Copenhagen, and after a while moved on to Sweden. Mobility connected his worlds as he traveled from metropole to metropole.

Why Copenhagen? African-American music and dance arrived there prior to World War II, and the impact of performances by Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker in 1930's Copenhagen was ground-breaking and powerful. From 1930-1935 the painter William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was living, painting and exhibiting in Denmark with his Danish wife Holche, where his work was collected by Danish art enthusiasts.

The popularity of American Jazz and African-American musicians increased exponentially during the 1939-1945 German occupation of Denmark. Their upbeat music gave courage and unity in an uncertain time. The German occupation stopped import of Jazz records from England and USA in 1940. Although highly provoked, the Nazis did not do much harm to the Danish jazz fans until 1944 when the Gestapo intentionally bombed “Tivolis Koncertsal” -the well-known Jazz concert hall . With a ban on singing in the English language in place, jazz vocalists mastered scat instead. Jazz music had symbolic uses for the Danish resistance; young Danish Jazz artists like the Pianist Leo Mathisen dressed up to look like the African-American Willie "The Lion" Smith as a tribute when performing. Matiasen's signature song of 1941 “Take it easy Boy, Boy” reminded the Danes to not be beaten by the occupation.

After World War II through the late 1970s, new Jazz clubs opened in every corner of Denmark. Jazz promoter Baron Timme Rosenkranz encouraged jazz artists to come and perform in Copenhagen for a large, enthusiastic audience. Many American jazz musicians visiting Denmark found it difficult to leave the country, thriving in the warm welcome of their culture.

In 1964, the Copenhagen Jazz scene exploded and became the largest Jazz community in Europe, outranking even Paris. During this period there were many visits by Jazz and Blues Masters like: Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, George Wein, Miles Davis, the Delta Rhythm Boys, George Russell, Sonny Boy Williamson, Woody Herman, Ray Charles, Albert Ayler, Johnny Griffin, Stan Getz and Art Taylor. The Jazz musicians that remained in Denmark and are buried in Copenhagen today were: Ben Webster (1909-1973), Kenny Drew (1928-1993), Irving Sidney Jordan (1922–2006), Thad Jones (1924-1986), Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960), Ernie Wilkins (1919-1999), Richard Boone (1930-1999), and Dexter Gordon (1923-1990).

The success of the African-American jazz scene in Denmark drew many African-American painters to the country as well as dancers and choreographers. Painter Herbert Gentry (1919-2003) came up from Paris and resided in Copenhagen from 1959-1964. The painter/collagist Sam Middleton ( b.1927) - who spent a good part of his life painting his impressions of the sights and the sounds of jazz - had his studio in Copenhagen where he was joined by fellow artists Harvey Cropper (b. 1931) and Clifford Jackson (1927-2008). Cropper was Charlie Parker's art teacher and took Parker's advice to visit Scandinavia, and Clifford Jackson made the cover art for Scandinavian Jazz releases. Both were passing through Copenhagen and each eventually settled in Stockholm, Sweden. Hartwell Yeargans (1915-2005) moved to Copenhagen in 1971, where he worked until his return to New York in 1981. Walter H. Williams (1920 - 1998) lived in Denmark from 1963 and became a Danish Resident in 1979.

Walter Williams curated the large exhibition “10 American Negro artists living and working in Europe” The exhibition was held in Copenhagen in 1964 at the Free Exhibition building from June 11- 30. The exhibition featured about 10-15 works of each participating artist (Harvey Cropper, Beauford Delaney, Herbert Gentry, Arthur Hardie, Clifford Jackson, Sam Middleton, Earl Miller, Norma Morgan, Walter Williams, and Larry Potter).

HERBERT GENTRY - Solo Exhibitions 1943 - 2010
Diggs Gallery, Winston-Salem State University, NC
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, New York, NY, "Herb Gentry: The Man, The Master, The Magic"
University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library Rare Books and Special Collections, Rochester, NY, "Facing Other Ways: Herbert Gentry and African American Abstraction"
Gordon Parks Gallery, College of New Rochelle, Bronx, NY, "Herbert Gentry"
James E. Lewis Museum, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
" The Magic Within"
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Amistad Center for Art and Culture, Hartford, CT "Herbert Gentry: Moved by Music"
Phillips Museum of Art, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA "Face to Face"
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL
Alitash Kebede Gallery, Los Angeles, CA "Tribute to a Friendship: Romare Bearden & Herbert Gentry"
G.R.N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI "My Buddy"
Parish Gallery, Georgetown, Washington, DC
Steve Turner Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA "Trans-Atlantic Jazz"
Macy Gallery, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY, NY, "Overseeing the Seer"
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL
Molloy College, Rockville Centre, Long Island, NY
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Birmingham, MI
Stella Jones Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Birmingham, MI
Quick Art Center, St. Bonaventure University, Olean, NY
Alitash Kebede Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Galerie Futura, Stockholm, Sweden
Ragnarpers, Gärsnäs, Sweden
Falsterbo Konsthall, Falsterbo, Sweden
Lilla Galleriet, Helsingborg, Sweden
G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Birmingham, MI
Capitol East Graphics, Washington, DC
Gallerihuset, Copenhagen, Denmark
Bülowska Gallery, Malmö, Sweden
Gallery Altes Rathaus, Inzlingen (Basel), Germany
Galerie Futura, Stockholm, Sweden
Bülowska Gallery, Malmö, Sweden
Alitash Kebede Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA
La Maison Francaise, New York University, NY
Lilla Galleriet, Helsingborg, Sweden
Gooijer Fine Arts, Amsterdam, Holland
Galleria del Naviglio, Milan, Italy
Biblioteca Comunale di Milan, Italy
Owl 57 Gallery, Woodmere, NY
Gallery Asbæk, Copenhagen, Denmark
SAAB Konstförening, Linköping, Sweden
Galerie Oscar, Stockholm, Sweden
Galerie Glemminge, Glemmingebro, Sweden
Galerie Glaub, Cologne, Germany
Galerie International, Stockholm, Sweden
Gallery Magstræde, Copenhagen, Denmark
Randall Gallery, New York, NY
Fabien Carlsson Gallery, Gothenburg, Sweden
Montclair State College, Montclair, NJ
Amos Andersson Museum, Helsinki, Finland. "Herbert Gentry 20 Year Retrospective"
Norrköping Konstmuseum, Norrköping, Sweden "Herbert Gentry 20 Year Retrospective"
Royal Art Academy [Kungliga Akademien] Stockholm, Sweden "Herbert Gentry 20 Year Retrospective"
Andre Zarre Gallery, New York, NY
Galerie Pinx, Helsinki, Finland
Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, Stockholm, Sweden
Oslos Konstforening, Oslo, Norway
Selma Burke Art Center Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
Stadsgalleriet, Halmstad, Sweden
Galerie Doktor Glas, Stockholm, Sweden
New Stanley Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya
Galerie Marya, Copenhagen, Denmark
Galerie Zodiaque, Brussels, Belgium
Vikingsborg Museum, Helsingborg, Lorensbergs Konstsalong, Gothenberg
Galerie Hybler, Copenhagen, Denmark
Phillips Company, Copenhagen, Denmark
Phillips Company, Amsterdam, Holland
Galerie Modern, Silkeborg, Denmark
Galerie Passpartout, Copenhagen, Denmark
Galerie Leger, Malmö
Galerie Rudolph Meier, Davos, Switzerland
Galerie Perron, Geneva, Switzerland
Galerie Aestetica, Stockholm
Den Frie, Copenhagen
Galerie Die Insel, Hamburg, Germany
Konstudstillningsbybygning, Odense, Denmark
Galerie Hybler, Copenhagen, Denmark
Galerie Suzanne Bollag, Zurich, Switzerland
Maison de Culture, Geneva, Switzerland
Burr Gallery, New York, NY
Rue Hamelin, Paris, France
Galerie Huit, Paris, France
Galerie Seine, Paris, France
U.S. Army Service Center, Oran, Algeria
HERBERT GENTRY - Selected Group Exhibitions 1996 - 2010

• N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit, MI, Seminal Works from the N’Namdi collection of African-American Art
• August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Pittsburgh, PA, In My Father’s House
• Wilmer Jennings Gallery, New York, NY, African American Still Life
• G. R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL, A Group Exhibition
• Anita Shapolsky Gallery, NYC, African American Abstract Masters
• Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba, NYC, Abstraction Plus Abstraction
• Anita Shapolsky Foundation, Jim Thorpe, PA, African American Abstract Masters
• Gallery Myrtis, Baltimore, MD, Art of the Collectors II

• Parish Gallery, Georgetown, Washington, DC. Masters for the First Family

• Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA, In Search of Missing Masters: The Lewis Tanner Moore Collection of African American Art
• Oakland University Art Gallery, Rochester, MI. Seminal Works from the N’Namdi collection of African-American Art
• Parish Gallery, Georgetown, DC, Herbert Gentry and Friends

• Bermuda National Gallery, Hamilton, Bermuda, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede
• New York State Museum, Albany, NY, Expressions in Blue
• California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Between Two Worlds : The Alitash Kebede Collection
• G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI. 25th Anniversary : Forms of Abstraction
• G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, NYC. 25th Anniversary: Forms of Abstraction
• G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL. Forms of Abstraction
• Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYC Black Art: Treasures from the Schomburg

• New York State Museum, Albany, NY, Driven to Abstraction
• Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Newport News, VA, Living with Art
• Parish Gallery, Washington, DC. Fifteen Years: Parish Gallery
• G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI, James A Porter and His Contemporaries
• University of Maryland University College, UMUC Inn and Conference Center Gallery, Adelphi, MD. Holding Our Own: Selections from The Collectors Club of Washington, D.C., Inc.
• PEPCO Gallery, Washington, DC Holding Our Own: Selections from The Collectors Club of Washington, D.C., Inc.
• G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI, James A Porter and His Contemporaries
• Cincinnati Arts Association, Weston Gallery, Aronoff Center, Cincinnatti, OH, Images of America: African American Voices: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Walker
• Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Newport News, VA, Living with Art
• Lana Woods Gallery, NYC
• DuSable Museum of African-American History, Chicago, IL Images of America: African American Voices :Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Walker
• Stark University Ctr. Galleries, Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede

• University Union Art Gallery, Towson University, Towson, MD, Otis and Harryette Robertson Collection
• The Mosely Gallery, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, MD, New Forms: African American Artists at UMES
• Diggs Gallery, Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC, Images of America: African American Voices :Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Walker
• Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, The 2005 Collectors Show

• Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY, Embracing the Muse
• Diggs Gallery, Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC, Vivacious! Works from the Collection of George & Carmen N’Namdi
• Carriage House Gallery, Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May, NJ, Glimpses of America
• Smith Robertson Cultural Center, Jackson, MS, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede
• EFA Studio Center, Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts, NYC, Momentum: The Robert Blackburn Studio Workshop
• G. R. N’Namdi Gallery, NYC, Opening Exhibition
• G. R. N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI, Fifty Years of American Printmaking
• G. R. N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago, IL, Figuratively Speaking, Kind Of
• Steve Turner Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA, American Art Past and Present
• Walton Art Center, Little Rock, AK, Images of America: African American Voices :Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Walker
• Pritchard Art Gallery, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede

• The Gallery, Mercer County Community College, Trenton, NJ, Glimpses of America
• Futura Gallery, Stockholm, SE, 22nd Anniversary Show
• Gallery of Contemporary Art at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede
• Studio 18 Gallery, New York, NY, Ambient Forays
• Iandor Gallery, Newark, NJ, Six Men in Dialogue
• Atrium Art Gallery, Morris County Building, Morristown, NJ, Generations
• Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock TX, Living with Art: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection of Alitash Kebede

• Futura Gallery, Stockholm, SE
• James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD, Convergence
• Amistad Foundation Gallery at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, Sankofa
• Eclectic Connection Gallery, Summit, NJ, African-American Artists
• Steve Turner Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA, Not Just February: African American Art 1817-2001
• N’Namdi Gallery, Detroit, MI, Jacob Lawrence and his Contemporaries

• Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, African American Art- 20th Century Masterworks VIII
• Texas Southern University, Houston, African American Art- 20th Century Masterworks- VIII
• Stella Jones Gallery, New Orleans, LA, Ebony Soliloquy: A Five Year Retrospective

• Rockland Center for the Arts, Nyack, NY, African American Artists at 2000: Voices of Diversity
• Iandor Gallery, Newark, NJ

• Futura Gallery, Stockholm, SE, Bara Konst
• Masur Museum, Monroe, LA
• Rush Arts Gallery, NYC, La Connection Francaise
• American Vision Gallery 145, New York, NY Fine Art Comes to Harlem

• Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, Amistad Foundation New Acquisitions
• Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, NYC, Black New York Artists of the 20th Century
• Stella Jones Gallery, New Orleans, LA, Gallery Retrospective: A Year in Review
• Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, The Box: a rejected object. A journey into the African diasporian experience

• The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, Hirshhorn Collects: Recent Acquisitions
• Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX, Explorations in the City of Light
• Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, Explorations in the City of Light
• Hecksher Museum, Huntington, Long Island, NY, Studio Museum in Harlem: 25 Years
• The Lowe Art Gallery, University of Miami, FL, SMH: 25 Years
• Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA, Soul and Spirit: 200 Years of Art from Hampton University Museum

• Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC, Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965
• Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL, Explorations in the City of Light
• New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA, Explorations in the City of Light

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