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Have You Discovered Jacob Lawrence?

Updated: Mar 8

If you love artists who communicate with brilliant color, extreme simplicity, deep emotion and beautiful composition, don’t miss the work of Jacob Lawrence. I just learned of him because his paintings are currently being featured at a number of museums across the country. Born in 1917 and died in 2000 his talent was recognized early. The New York Times called Lawrence “Among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African-American experience.”



Lawrence painted the travails of his people in series - 30 or more paintings on one subject. These series included works on the great migration of blacks to the north, World War I from a black perspective, a Harlem series and many more. Lawrence is a graphic story teller who uses very simplified human forms, a brilliant but limited color palette and large blocks of empty space to spin his narrative. His works – often with long titles - are monumental. You expect to see them take over large walls but in fact they are quite small.


The nonprofit website www.theartstory.org/artist/lawrence-jacob/artworks/describes his style as “Working with a palette of browns, bright red, yellow-orange, black, white, and blue, Lawrence created his figures as non-naturalistic color blocks, their limbs elongated, their torsos concealed beneath blocky clothing, and their facial features simplified to eyes and mere outlines of a nose and mouth. These compositional decisions eliminate extraneous background details that would take away from the poignant emotions of the narrative.” And they are heartbreakingly poignant.


extraneous background details that would take away from the poignant emotions of the narrative.” And they are heartbreakingly poignant.

While researching Lawrence I happened upon his wonderful 1968 book for young readers (but really everyone) that marries his powerful graphic paintings with his equally powerful poetry. The book is Harriet and the Promised Land about Harriet Tubman, born a slave who fled to the North and then kept going back to the South to save other slaves – 18 times. This photo is from his book. Don't miss it.






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