Now, Watkins’ work can be found in several of the Bay Area’s most notable exhibition spaces, including the Tenderloin Museum, Luggage Store gallery, and the University of California. Similarly, his paintings can still be seen in Waco, where January 17th is officially “Ira Watkins Day” in honor of one of his most acclaimed murals, a scene of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic Lincoln Memorial “I Have a Dream” speech that overlooks Waco’s city center. His impressive exhibition history includes over 30 gallery and museum shows, both in solo and group shows.
Revered for a style of painting that draws similarities to 15th century European art in terms of arrangement and tone, Watkins flips the script of traditionally white iconography. By portraying the upper echelon of symbolism and stock characters as African Americans and Tenderloin personalities, Watkins challenges current American social hierarchies and breathes a certain air of dignity and respect into otherwise marginalized groups.
A true force whose career spans almost 30 years, Watkins’ body of work, including Rhythm of the City, depicts the communities that he is a part of — from Waco, Texas to San Francisco, California — and helps to bridge the chasm between the perception of history and the true stories of the people, places, and events that shaped Black America.