The story of Jacob Lawrence

“Historical painter” would be an appropriate title, although Jacob Lawrence himself preferred “Expressionist” and was certainly the most qualified to describe his own work. Lawrence is one of the best known African American painters of the 20th century, along with Romare Bearden. Although Lawrence is often associated with the Harlem Renaissance, this is not correct. He began studying art half a decade after the Great Depression ended the height of this movement. It can be said, however, that the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to the schools, teachers and artist-mentors from whom Lawrence later learned.

His youth

Lawrence was born on September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After a childhood marked by a series of moves and the separation of his parents, Jacob Lawrence, his mother and his two young brothers and sisters settled in Harlem when the future painter was 12 years old. It was there that he discovered drawing and painting (on discarded cardboard boxes), while he was following an after-school program at the Utopia children's center. He continued to paint when he could, but was forced to drop out of school to help his family after his mother lost her job during the Great Depression.

His art

Luck (and the sculptor's persistence) intervened to provide Lawrence with easel work as part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration). He loved art, reading and history. His peaceful determination to show that African Americans, too, play a major role in the history of the Western Hemisphere, despite their manifest absence in art and literature, led him to undertake his first major series .

1941 was a landmark year for Jacob Lawrence: he crossed the color barrier when his flagship work, The Migration of the Negro, was exhibited at the prestigious Downtown Gallery, and he also married his fellow painter Gwendolyn Knight . He served in the United States Coast Guard during the Second World War and returned to his artistic career. He got a temporary teaching job at Black Mountain College (in 1947) at the invitation of Josef Albers, who became both an influencer and a friend.

Lawrence spent the rest of his life painting, teaching and writing. He is best known for his figurative compositions, full of simplified forms and bright colors, and for his use of watercolor and gouache. Unlike almost all other modern and contemporary artists, he has always worked in series of paintings, each with a different theme. His influence, as a visual artist who recounts the dignity, the hopes and the struggles of African-Americans in American history, is incalculable. Lawrence died on June 9, 2000 in Seattle, Washington.

The most important of his works

The most important works of Lawrence are:

  • Toussaint L'Ouverture (series), 1937-38;
  • Harriet Tubman (series), 1938-39;
  • Frederick Douglass (series), 1939-40;
  • Black Migration (series), 1941;
  • John Brown (series), 1941-42.

His famous quotes

See some famous quotes from Jacob Lawrence.

  • “I would describe my work as an expressionist. The expressionist point of view is to emphasize your own feelings about something. ”
  • “I believe that it is very important for an artist to develop an approach and a philosophy of life. If he has developed this philosophy, he does not paint on the canvas, he puts himself on the canvas. ”
  • “If sometimes my productions do not express conventional beauty, there is always an effort to express the universal beauty of man's continuous struggle to elevate his social position and to add a dimension to his spiritual being.”
  • “When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to deal with it.”