New York City – Seattle
A talented artist from childhood, many biographers depict Jacob Lawrence as a forceful but uneducated artist (much like Horace Pippin). In fact, Lawrence spent years studying art and art history to develop his talents. His education included years at Alston’s WPA Workshop, the American Artists’ School and private mentoring in his own studio.
He manufactured a style of his own he called “dynamic Cubism.” Jacob Lawrence claimed this style was not inspired by the works of Old Masters, but rather by the life of Harlem. Although he created an impressive body of work in his life, his most famous and masterful work is The Migration Series, which documents the movement of black families from the South to the North in the early 20th century. Painted on sixty panels of cardboard, the series launched him to the forefront of the American art scene and, soon after, Lawrence received his first solo exhibition at the Met.
Fascinated by the humanity of African-Americans, artist Jacob Lawrence often utilized historical narratives as the focus of his work. Figures like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and George Washington Bush all had starring roles as his subjects.
His earliest work focused on the people of Harlem and were often drab and melancholy, harshly criticizing the government for its perceived indifference to social injustice. That desire to use his talents to educate and enlighten remained with him his entire life. Before educational curriculums contained African-American history, Jacob Lawrence would travel to public schools with his paintings to tell children the stories.
Largely creating “dynamic Cubism,” Lawrence composed paintings of compartmentalized shapes them filled in this space with color. His work was dramatic and, at times, even frightening in its intensity.
New York in Transit I/II, mosaic mural, 2000 (42nd Street Station, New York City, NY). http://www.mta.info/mta/aft/permanentart/permart.html?agency=NYCT&line=P&station=2&artist=4
War Series: Shipping Out, egg tempera on composition board, 1947 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY) http://whitney.org/Collection/JacobLawrence/517
Tombstones, gouache on paper, 1942 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY). http://whitney.org/Collection/JacobLawrence/4314
The Legend of John Brown Series, gouache on paper, 1941 (Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI) http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/exhibitions/jacob-lawrence.aspx
Lawrence, Gwendolyn. “Jacob Lawrence.” 2003. http://www.cs.washington.edu/building/art/JacobLawrence/
Archives of American Art. “Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Papers.” 2014. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/jacob-lawrence-and-gwendolyn-knight-papers-9121/more
The Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence Virtual Resource Center. “Biography of Jacob Lawrence.” 2001. http://www.jacobandgwenlawrence.org/artandlife01.html