Jacob Lawrence: September 7,1917-June 9 2000...United States
"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."
One of the most important artists in contemporary art is Jacob Lawrence. He is best known for his narrative painting series that show aspects of African American
history. Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His parents split up when he was little and he moved around with
his single mom and his brother and sister. Because of hardships the kids were placed into foster care for a short time, but
the family was reunited in Harlem, New York. Although the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance (a black art movement that created
jazz, vaudeville, and a distinct visual style) was before Lawrence, his style is greatly based upon the Harlem
Renaissance. As a teen his mom enrolled him in an art class at the Utopia Children's Center as an after-school program.
“The 30's was actually a wonderful period in Harlem, although we didn't know this at the time. Of
course, it wasn't wonderful for our parents. For them it was a struggle, but for the younger people coming along like myself,
there was a real vitality in the community.” As time passed, he was soon awarded a scholarship to the American
Artists School. During the Great Depression, he worked for the WPA’s easel division. Around this time he created his
first series, forty-one artworks based on the life of François-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, a famous man who went
from slave to leader of the Revolution in Haiti. Other series were based on people including: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass,
and John Brown.
Lawrence’s paintings went beyond historical figures alone.
The intention of his work was to help people see the history of black’s was often overlooked by history. Through his
art, he gave a history, view, biography, and story of an overlooked group people in our American history. “My
pictures express my life and experience. I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have
experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene." Beyond showing history,
he was helping to form it. Like with his artwork for the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
As an art teacher, Lawrence worked to instill these historical
ideas into the work of his students. He began teaching in the summers in Maine at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
in 1954. He went on to teach at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 1955 and University of Washington, in Seattle in
1970. "If at times my productions do not express the conventionally beautiful, there is always an effort
to express the universal beauty of man's continuous struggle to lift his social position and to add dimension to his spiritual
being." He remained in Washington state until death in 2000.