[ART] 7 Things to Like about Jacob Lawrence

It’s Black History Month!  And that’s no excuse not to know some things about famous artists who exemplify Black Excellence! So let’s dive right in and talk about 7 things to like about Jacob Lawrence!!!


Jacob Lawrence by Robert W Kelley

ART STYLE : Expressionist / History Painter

“My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life – if he has developed this philosophy, he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas.” Jacob Lawrence



Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41. Panel 40: “The migrants arrived in great numbers.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12″ (45.7 x 30.5 cm).

1.  In his art, he recorded historical and social aspects of black life.  From desegregation to the African-American migration from the south, Lawrence captured the energy and essence of a movement/transition/event.  According to the University of Washington, Lawrence “used his art to tell stories about black history — stories that were overlooked in the typical “American History” taught in schools.”  Who doesn’t like amazing, visual documents of history hardly taught?



“Young Jacob Lawrence at 6.”  (onlinenetworking)

2.  Lawrence faced many adversities from a very early age and throughout his life, and, despite it all, Lawrence succeeded to make meaningful, noteworthy art. As About.com states about his childhood: “He kept up painting when he could, but was forced to drop out of school to help support the family after his mother lost her job during the Great Depression.” How can you not like someone who has so much determination at such a day and age?

Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41. Panel 58.

3.  He was an art educator, very much loved by his students (source).  He made art in the meantime but he left major impact on younger generations of artists under his tutelage.  Who wouldn’t rally for someone who contributes to the success of others?



 Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series No. 58.

4.  “Lawrence was the first African-American artist to exhibit in a mainstream New York gallery” (source). Breaking through the racial barrier into the more privileged white circles of society, he cleared the way for other black artists to be majorly featured.



The Butcher Shop, 1938

5.  His unique style still influences black art with its bold colors, nearly featureless faces, and the essentialized shapes aesthetic.”I think of him as one of the great figurative formalists of the century,” Spafford adds. “He really altered the art landscape of the Northwest, and his career blossomed here, although you wouldn’t expect that, coming from a hub like New York” (source).



Gwendolyn Knight // Gwen and Jacob

6.  He didn’t stifle his wife’s career.  Married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight, Lawrence benefited much from his wife’s artistic insights.

The Seattle Times Obituaries says that: “Until her husband’s death in 2000, Ms. Knight was both muse and creative partner to Lawrence, one of the premier American artists of the past century. Their partnership lasted 60 years. Ms. Knight continued making art, showing some of her strongest images in a 2003 retrospective at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Unlike her husband, whose intense focus on his painting came to him early in life, like a calling, Ms. Knight preferred to spread her creative energy around. She painted for pleasure, but even before she developed an interest in painting, Ms. Knight loved to sing and dance.”



Jacob Lawrence

7.  “Curator Beth Sellars, who organized the 1998 exhibition of Lawrence’s work at the Henry Art Gallery [says] “His kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity—both he and Gwen, actually, because I think of them as one. So much of what he accomplished was through her sheer strength.”” (source).



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