Della Wells

Within Our Grasp, 1997
Pastel on paper
22.50 x 30 in
SKU: 8519c
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"Within our Grasp," 1997, is an original pastel by Della Wells. It is signed in the lower right. "Within our Grasp," appears to be an image of sexual violence in which a woman's body is fought over and preyed upon. Wells depicts an erotic representation of a white female nude, limbs splayed, back arched, featureless, defined by her blond hair and red lips. Her body, stretched out on a star-spangled background spans the length of the piece. A fragment of the American flag, representing unfulfilled promises to African Americans, is near her face, suggesting that this objectified woman is the American ideal. She appears to be trapped from above and below by multi-colored hands representing the United States (red, white, and blue) and the Pan African flag (red, black, and green), a representation of freedom for black Americans. Wells makes it unclear just what is within reach—access to the woman, access to power? --and to whom the “our” in the title refers. The Pan African flag as the sail of a boat has been planted on the woman’s genitals by the green hand with the red and black fingernails. Is this an image of black empowerment, represented by the Pan African flag, or is it an image of the exploitation of women by both parties? Wells has said that the woman is an Eve figure upon which everything is blamed, but the image cannot be read so easily. Questions remain: Is the blue hand with the red and white fingernails attempting to pluck the flag away? What sex do the hands represent? If, according to the artist, stars represent the shining soul and eyes stand for all-seeing eyes of God, what does the band of eyes and stars mean? 

Artwork Size: 22 1/2" x 30"
Frame Size: 31 3/8" x 38 7/8"

Born in 1951, Della Wells grew up in Milwaukee. As a child and young person, she did not want to become an artist but a storyteller; to this day she considers herself to be a “visual storyteller.” She sold her first work of art at age 13, but she did not begin working as an artist until she was 42. She has said, “I didn’t do anything for a long time, because I didn’t think I had anything to say. You can draw, you may know how to do things technically, but I think to be a true artist you have to have something to say. You have to have a vision.” Her creative process stems from her personal experiences and her works are often inspired by her troubled childhood. Known for her collages, drawings, dolls, paintings, and pastels, Wells creates a magical land called “Mambo” populated and ruled primarily by black women. Wells is a self-taught artist and her work has been successful in “outsider art” venues, including the Outsider Art exhibition in New York. Wells’ art is exhibited in more than 100 private and public collections. Her work has been purchased by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Her collages are sold at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.