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Sedrick Huckaby

American Dad, 2015

29 7/8" x 22"

Collectors Circle purchase, 2021

Faces and titles share a lot in common; they can shed light on what lies within, or they can confuse and befuddle us. If they (and we) are open, sometimes they can do both simultaneously. Faces and titles can express understanding and compassion or, conversely, they can exhibit and/or incite feelings of anger, shame, or disgust. Faces and titles are seldom surface-level blank slates; they are manifold, layered like an onion. It all depends on the senders and receivers. Even intentionally “untitled” artworks and our best attempts at blank stares can speak volumes.

In short, faces and titles carry a lot of weight and responsibility. An empathetic look or a knowing smile can go a long way in bridging gaps we once thought unbridgeable. Likewise, a title can invite us in like a loving embrace and a warm cup of cocoa. It all depends on what each side brings to the conversation. To the communion. After all, artworks (and faces) are the outer manifestations of our most private (and public) thoughts and feelings. Or, if you prefer, they are the outer manifestations of the depths of our souls.

Any time the word “American” is placed before something folks deem important—“the Great American Novel,” say, or “American democracy,” or even a phrase as common as “American as baseball and apple pie”—people’s emotions tend to well up, whether it’s the pride of patriotism that comes from a sense of inclusion and equality, or the frustration of still waiting for, as African American poet Langston Hughes put it, America’s democratic “dream deferred.”

Even the innocuous-seeming little three-letter word “Dad” can be chock-full of connotations, depending on whether you grew up with a mom and dad at home, or you come from a broken family. And, of course, if you are a dad yourself, the word surely says volumes to and about you yourself.

Huckaby doesn’t title this portrait “An American Dad” or “My American Dad” or “The American Dad” or “One American Dad"; no, he titles it American Dad, plain and simple. There it is. So what do we do with that? Well, a lot depends on what we ourselves bring to the conversation. Who we are largely determines how we read, understand, and engage with the world around us. What happens when the words “American Dad” and Huckaby’s image come together? While some viewers will surely feel a sense of homecoming when they see Huckaby’s portrait, others might feel pushed away. It depends in part on the viewer’s ability to look below the surface, to let the eyes (both yours and his) meet in the calm depths of understanding.

All of this is to say that the words with which we choose to frame things (and people), and the outer countenance we choose to share with the world, carry a lot of weight; they bear responsibility and witness. The question, then, is what does Huckaby’s American Dad say to you as your eyes meet?


American Dad from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas


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