"The community [in Harlem] let me develop...I painted the only way I knew how to paint...I tried to put the images down the way I related to the community...I was being taught...to see."
Jacob Lawrence was an American painter who was born on September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Lawrence was one of the most widely acclaimed African-American artist in the 20th century. He attended the American Artists School in New York, where he developed his own unique style of modernism and began creating narrative series for all his paintings. He is best known for his Migration of the Negro that was displayed at Edith Halphert’s gallery in 1942. Lawrence was then acknowledged for being the first African-American to join the gallery. As an artist, Lawrence relied heavily on historical research that included texts, memoirs, newspapers, and images that were prominent during the Harlem Renaissance.
Lithograph on Rives BFK paper
17 3/4 x 22 inches (image); 21 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches (paper)
edition of 300
In 1971, Lawrence was offered a job teaching art at the University of Washington where he concentrated much of his work on “topic of Builders”.
Jacob Lawrence combined Social Realism, abstraction, pared-down composition, and bold colors to express the experiences of African Americans. In addition, he translated human struggle into his paintings. For example, Lawrence expressed political struggles like Jim Crow into his paintings. Lawrence had a powerful styles that expressed the pathos of his neighborhood and all of its occupants.
Toussaint at Ennery, 1989
Silkscreen on Bainbridge Two-Ply Rag paper
18 5/8 x 29 inches (image); 22 x 32 1/8 inches (paper)
edition of 99
During World War II, Lawrence was assigned as a combat artist. In 1946, he received a Guggenheim Foundation grant to paint his War series. Then in 1947, Fortune Magazine asked him to create ten paintings that portrayed the postwar conditions in the south. He used water-based paint on hardboard panels with bright and bold colors. In the 1950s, his perspective became more complex because he art became more symbolic.
They were very poor
12 x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
During and after the World War, Lawrence continued to attract a vast audience through personal connection. For example, the painting displayed earlier, They were very poor, replicated the hardships that many African Americans experienced. He was initially influenced by Mexican muralists and early artists like Goya. He comprised about 60 “tempera” works with visual motifs to depict everyday life around him. He achieved immediate success through his own visual representation of his culture.
Lawrence also painted frescoes that are exhibited on the Times Square subway and murals for the University of Washington.
I chose to study Jacob Lawrence because of his use of abstraction to depict a story. His paintings develop a narrative that many of his viewers could relate too. With bright colors and bold subjects, he creates a universal appeal. I loved that his work illustrated the everyday life of many African Americans and their political struggles in the south. He did not just focus on human aspirations but on migration, war, and mental illness. Lawrence took time to study the history of African Americans and connected it to contemporary experiences around him.
“Jacob Lawrence Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org/artist-lawrence-jacob.htm.
“Jacob Lawrence.” DC Moore Gallery, www.dcmooregallery.com/artists/jacob-lawrence/featured-works?view=slider#5.
Lawrence, Jacob. “Jacob Lawrence. They Were Very Poor. 1940-41 | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/78552.
"Lawrence, Jacob Armstead." Benezit Dictionary of Artists. 2011-10-31.Oxford University Press. Date of access 25 Feb. 2018
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