Jacob Lawrence

African American Painter

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The Migration of the Negro, Panel 1

Jacob Lawrence is the most famous African American painter of the 1900's. He is best known for his series of narrative paintings that showed important moments in African American history. The most famous of these is his Migration Series of 60 panels on the Great Migration. Panel 1 shown above was the first panel of the series. These paintings told the story of his family, and of the thousands of blacks, who left the South in hope of a better life and opportunities in the North. His work showed their struggle, strength, and perseverance during this time period of 1900 - 1940. Using birds to indicate migration, Panel 3 below also shows their journey.

Through his paintings Jacob Lawrence explored injustice, racial tensions, discrimination, and poverty. An example of this is seen in Panel 14 below where he paints a white judge looming over two African Americans. Feeling they had no protection or justice, many cited this as a reason to move north. Jacob Lawrence made powerful statements with his bold paintings.

Jacob Lawrence also became a visual story-teller of his Harlem neighborhood, capturing daily life in many of his paintings such as Brownstones below. His life and art were shaped by growing up in Harlem and by working closely with other Harlem artists such as poet Langston Hughes. Mr. Lawrence was the last surviving artist of the Harlem Renaissance.

Biography of Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence was born 1917. His parents were from the South and migrated North during WWI. When they separated in 1924, Jacob was sent to foster care. At the age of 13, he joined back with his mom living in Harlem where he attended Utopia Children's Center. It offered an after school art program. He was a drop out at 16 but still took classes at Harlem Art Workshop and often visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1937 Jacob Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York and in 1938 he worked as a painter for the WPA, Works Progress Administration. In 1941 he completed the Migration of the Negro series, the paintings for which he is most famous. Mr. Lawrence spent most of his life painting and teaching. He died in 2000.

Comparing Pawel Kuczynski to Jacob Lawrence

Pawel Kuczynski was born in 1976 and is a present-day Polish artist who draws about the injustices of his time, just as Jacob Lawrence did. Both Kuczynski and Lawrence became famous artists at a young age. Like Lawrence, Kuczynski has produced series of his artwork. Both artists contrast bright, bold colors against blacks and browns, and both contrast serious subjects with an informal, more modern style. Pawel Kuczynski's art confronts poverty, greed, politics, and morality, often making a statement just as Jacob Lawrence did. In Kuczynski's drawing Trouble, shown to the right, he shows the great division between the very few rich and the rest of the population. In Kucyznski's drawing City Sky, he shows the misplaced concerns of business, more worried about the spilled paint than the painter who has died.
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