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Jacob Lawrence: American Printmaker
Hallie Ford Museum of
Seattle painter and printmaker Jacob Lawrence is considered to be among the first important black visual artists in the United States. Born in Atlantic City in 1917, he had the relative advantage of an education in New York City, where the Harlem Art Workshops and the American Artists School (which he attended evenings, as well as frequenting museums and libraries) provided additional impetus to the literary and artistic Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. As a painter, Lawrence developed a flat, Cubist-derived, figurative style consistent with the prevailing international and modernist tenets, and was strongly actuated by a social and humanitarian consciousness. His narrative message was universal: the benefits of genuine democracy, the dignity of skilled labour and the enrichment of education ñ not exclusively a black message, but one which frequently drew on the struggle and endurance of his own community. Inversely, Lawrence could not help but comment on the history of human slavery, and he has extolled the heroism of abolitionist leaders from Haitian Toussaint LíOuverture to civil-rights catalysts such as Martin Luther King. Lawrenceís prints are often subtle reductions from his gouache compositions: lithographs, serigraphs and etchings that, although small in scale, bring to mind the power and narrative eloquence of the post-revolutionary Mexican muralists. His art has never been merely about art: rather it has been one of total social engagement, which has earned him countless honourary doctorates and, in 1990, the National Medal of Arts.
© Ted Lindberg