Born to Martinican parents, Colomba always wanted to be an artist and displayed natural talent as a child.
In her teenage years, she stumbled upon a book that would change her life: The Image of the Black in Western Art by Hugh Honor (Harvard University Press). Until then, she had never seen a black person represented in a classical painting, in the technical sense of the term. The revelation inspired her to create a portrait inspired by Whistler’s work (Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1).
She relentlessly studied the paintings at the Louvre, in particular those of the Dutch Masters, and soon graduated from the prestigious Estienne School with a degree in Applied Arts.
At 20, a chance encounter with Leonardo Di Caprio altered the course of her career. Struck by her talent, the actor encouraged her to become a storyboard artist for the film industry. Elizabeth spent the next decade collaborating with Baz Luhrman on Romeo and Juliette, Andrew Dominik on Jesse James, Tom Ford on A Single Man, Liev Schreiber on Everything Is Illuminated, and her friend Julie Delpy on Two Days in New York.
In 2011, she moved to New York in order to devote herself entirely to painting. During a group show at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn, one of her paintings caught the eye of Deborah Willis, Ph.D., the powerhouse African American artist, curator, MacArthur Fellow, and chair of the department of Photography & Imaging at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Willis helped her make a name for herself in the New York art world.
Her first solo exhibition in Harlem, The Moon Is My Only Luxury, was a sold-out show. Elizabeth’s paintings joined those of Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald (both Obama’s portraitists), and Barkley Hendricks in the permanent collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, alongside that of Princeton University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. The New Yorker celebrated her “opulent portraits of black women that re-address the erasures of women of color in nineteenth-century art history… lush, ardent, and inspiring paintings…”
In 2018, Elizabeth’s piece Laure (Portrait of a Negress) appeared in a groundbreaking show, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery and eventually traveled to Paris’s Orsay Museum.
The same year, The Metropolitan Museum Opera commissioned her to direct a short film for the opera Cendrillon, an honor previously granted to Maurizio Cattelan, Elizabeth Peyton, and George Condo. She was the first black woman commissioned.
Her painting Haven, which represents a black couple in Weeksville, was presented the following year at New York City mayoral home Gracie Mansion. “When you put women in charge, what they do actually helps the movement, because we focus on policies that affect more people — women, children, families — than men are likely to,” commented First Lady Chirlane McCray on the occasion of the presentation.
For her last art show at Gracie Mansion on display until the end of 2021, McCray included another of Colomba’s works, The Cup. The exhibition, Catalyst: Art and Social Justice, highlights works by New York activists and artists since 1960 and celebrates the “power of art to park change and spur progress.”
In 2018, Vogue magazine devoted five pages to Elizabeth’s work in its September issue and in 2019, In Style magazine listed Colomba as one of the “50 badass women in America” along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Angela Davis.
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