Ellen Powell-Tiberino, Philadelphia’s most prominent and prolific black female artist whose paintings reflected the rawness and grace of life, died Friday at her home after a 14-year battle with cancer. She was in her early 50s.
Mrs. Tiberino, who worked out of her Powelton Village home, was a non- apologetic artist who forced the viewer to examine what was moving in the ordinary, such as her painting of an aging, overweight dancer who still seemed to glide effortlessly.
“I paint life, and life is not always beautiful,” she said in a 1988 interview.
She’s a strong character and she prevailed as long as she could. Few people could match her courage.
“Her work was very dramatic. She very often was able to show you the other side of midnight. She was able to show you the sides of life that you may not want to deal with.”
Mrs. Tiberino’s works – which encompassed oils, pastels, pencils and bas- relief sculpture – sometimes evoked controvery and criticism. Commenting on her work in an interview several years ago, she said, “It reaches people, no matter whether the person likes it or hates it – either way, it’s successful.”
Mrs. Tiberino grew up in the city’s Mantua section. She converted to Catholicism at 13 and won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. While there, she became the second black woman to win the prestigious Cresson Traveling Scholarship. Fellow artist Roland Ayers has said of Mrs. Tiberino’s works: “She’s a very painterly painter. She handles paint the way they did in the 16th, 17th centuries. The work has a feeling of light from within.”