(1917 - )
Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but spent his early
childhood in Pennsylvania. His mother moved to New York when he was about
thirteen and enrolled him at Utopia Children's House after school hours.
His earliest work attracted the attention of the artist Charles
Alston and so, from 1932 to 1939, Lawrence worked with Alston and
Henry Bannarn in their studio they kept together. In 1937, Lawrence joined
a Civilian Conservation Corps work gang and learned how to handle a
shovel. Thanks to a scholarship, he was then able to return to art and the
American Artists School until 1939, when he became one of many artists
working for the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration.
Of this Lawrence says: "It was my education. . . .We (artists) would meet
each other and we talked and we talked." The talk was exciting and
generally revolved around the idea of social content in art. Lawrence had
been painting the things he saw around him and unavoidably expressing his
feelings about the life he experienced in Harlem. He became interested in
history, especially African American history, and painted several series
of paintings on such subjects. Finally he won a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship
that permitted him to expand his range of material.
His first one-man show opened on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941;
Lawrence's narrative paintings were an instantaneous success. Two museums
bought them all, and twenty-six were reproduced by "Fortune" magazine for
a special color issue. A tour of duty in the United States Coast Guard
resulted in a series on life in that branch of the service; a hospital
stay led to a series on hospital life. Lawrence is a compassionate and
hopeful human being, and a fascinating storyteller. His style is
expressionistic, with strong compositional movement, dramatic rhythms, and
rich color-stunning in the use of pure scarlet, clear blue, and subtle
whites combined with lively browns and blacks. Although his work is
concerned with African Americans, it is universally appealing and as such
is indicative of the fact that the struggle of one man becomes part of the
struggle of all mankind for freedom and human dignity.