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Sat, 04.02.1927

Sam Middleton, Artist born

Sam Middleton

*Sam Middleton was born on this date in 1927. He was a Black mixed-media artist. 

Middleton was born in Harlem, New York City, and grew up in the city. As a young boy growing up in Harlem, he often visited the nearby Savoy Ballroom, and music – jazz and classical – became important inspirations for his artistic endeavors. Working at the Savoy, Middleton designed costumes and painted record and book covers.

Middleton’s early painting was heavily influenced by the musicians of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. When he was 17, Middleton left the city to work on a boat with the Merchant Marines to get away from Harlem and have time to paint. While abroad, Middleton visited art galleries and museums for inspiration. Middleton struggled as an artist in the United States due to its racism and class discrimination but continued to refine his technique, studying with other Black creatives like Beauford Delaney.

In 1956, Middleton won a scholarship to the Institute Allende in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, and studied in Mexico for the next several years. In 1959, after significantly advancing his technical skill and having the opportunity to showcase his art, Middleton traveled to Europe to paint, living in Spain, Sweden, France, and Denmark before settling in the Netherlands in 1961. After moving to the Netherlands, Middleton returned to Harlem periodically but never again held residence in America, despite calls from fellow African Americans to return. Middleton found greater creative freedom in Holland while holding onto his jazz influences. Emigration Middleton moved to the Netherlands as part of a wave of African American artists, along with Deborah Simon, Sherard Van Dyke, and Lorina Harris.

He remained in Europe to escape Jim Crow racism and lack of opportunity for Blacks in the United States but was uninvolved with the American Civil Rights movement. Because of his expatriate status and the fact that his artwork wasn’t focused on his race, Middleton’s paintings are largely absent from African American art collections in the United States. However, he became a figure in the Dutch art community and opened his doors to other African American artists who came to the Netherlands, helping them gain traction in Europe. Middleton was able to display exhibitions of his artwork in a prominent Dutch art gallery, an opportunity that was limited to very few Black artists in America.

He lived in Amsterdam for many years but was fascinated by the landscape and settled in Oterleek and Schagen in North Holland in 1973. Music (classical and jazz) and the landscape of North Holland created the climate of his abstract expressionist work. Middleton’s style evolved to reflect newfound inspirations, like the expansive tulip fields of the country. His paintings became fuller and softer while maintaining their distinct jazz connections. Middleton taught at Atelier '63 in Haarlem, Netherlands, and the Royal Academy of Art in ‘s Hertogenbosch, jobs that provided enough income to fuel his artistic career.

Known for his style, Middleton liked to use abstract expressionism in his work, basing his color, lines, and compositions around sound and harmony. Middleton specialized in working with collages. He married twice and had three sons, one daughter, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Sam Middleton died in the Netherlands on July 19, 2015.

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