Both in the post-Emancipation era and before, during, and after the Great Migration of African Americans to the North, black women found themselves pigeonholed into domestic labor jobs, among them ironing and washing the clothing of more affluent white families. Hunter which ironically chose this particular painting for its cover. When competing with other ethnic populations for jobs in the economic sector, washing was fiercely defended, even violently at times, as an African-American trade. But determination to embrace identity, like that in the post-Emancipation era, was a characteristic of the New Negro which Lawrence famously addressed in his Migration Series.
This is the abstract painting that gets painted by characters in sitcoms and movies. Jacob Lawrence, Dust to Dust, Poor imitations cover the art fair canvases, inspirational posters and greeting cards that we dismiss without a second thought.
For many viewers, however, these imitations are never countered by the knowledge of what, exactly, the original thing looks like. Whereas Picasso has an institutional army protecting his work from this kind of confusion, the ranks of academics protecting the work of Jacob Lawrence and his Harlem renaissance peers are considerably thinner.
Jacob Lawrence, Ironers Courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. But Lawrence was responsible for a style of painting that by its own right — and by the persistence of its imitation — would define an African-American aesthetic.
By the very fact of who he was, this makes for a broad history lesson. Lawrence was a passionate historian and the exhibition documents the massive shift in the life of black Americans as they moved from south to north, country to city, and struggled for equality in wartime and peace.
Reading like a wall-sized comic book, the series is an even-handed narrative and gives the same pared-down treatment to crowded trains that it does to lynching. Less sweeping, but equally fascinating are individual paintings that take on small moments in urban life: These paintings, in addition to paintings of World War II and the civil rights movement make for a dense trip to the museum.
So much history and such an inherent connection to history makes Over the Line a bit like a Ken Burns documentary: Jacob Lawrence, Migration of the Negro The Negro, who had been part of the soil for many years, Looking at his paintings simply as paintings is another matter.
It feels like any and every Jacob Lawrence painting available are on view, and the galleries are packed. Usually the least colorful participants in his compositions, human beings are soft, dull curves slouching into the radiant and angular buildings that contain them. In Halloween Sand Bagswhite brushstroke attackers beat a fallen black brushstroke with sandbags.
Literally ghosts, and assaulting a ghostly victim, the effect invokes the Klan, while the casual application of the marks makes the whole thing disturbingly goofy.
Simple if taken on their own, his piles of meaning end up inverted and indecipherable.
They offer observations, but seldom answers. His most often repeated symbol, the fire escape ladder, is explained by Lawrence as a symbol of hope and a chance to ascend.
Maybe so, but fire escapes are built for descent, not ascent.
He drives this point home with his painting in The Migration of the Negro of tenement bombings. As the buildings burn, the fire escapes will be used by people leaving everything behind. Ironers, the painting selected for the invitation to the show, has perhaps suffered on account of its imitators; but this celebration of the kaleidoscope of the street feels bright, joyous, and empty.
And yet, when we see the same approach pushed further in The Migration of the Negro something entirely different happens. The same energy, the same love of color is applied to steel factories — in the form of gorgeous yellow and blue sparks pouring against the dark abyss of industrial America.
In each case, the combination of self-consciously stylized painting with social strife stripped down to footnote simplicity feels strikingly contemporary. The subjects have turned deadly serious, but Jacob Lawrence is still celebrating. His impulse runs contrary to every righteous reaction to inequity.
He turns away from the documentary. He turns away from unembellished truth-telling, and insists on being a painter. Superficially, the work is dissimilar to the rest of the show because it is the only work that depicts exclusively white subjects.
More importantly, the institution paintings are the first paintings that bring the fine lines that Lawrence had before reserved for inanimate objects into the figure. Suddenly, the brushstroke people of his earlier work are distinct not only for their clothing, but for their features. In the institution, his world of mass and pattern transformed into a world that could suddenly accommodate contour and motion.
Lawrence later returned to the strengths of his earlier work, although it was dissipated in the blander paintings that became more common in his adult career. His narrative series reached a terrifying peak with his Hiroshima series.
Returning to rendering figures as assemblies of solid shapes, he created a delicate world for the final moments of the unsuspecting victims.The Visitation () (now on view in the exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North) exemplifies a critical early moment in the development of an artist who would become a leading voice in the cultural life of Harlem and in the history of American art.
Major traveling exhibitions of Lawrence’s work have been presented in museums across the country, including Jacob Lawrence: American Painter, organized by the Seattle Museum of Art; Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of , organized by the Hampton University Museum in Virginia; and Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, organized jointly by the Phillips .
Ironers by Jacob Lawrence, gouache on paper, JACOB LAWRENCE IRONERS by Nathan Birnbaum This painting plays into the labeling of Jacob Lawrence’s early work as “primitive,” bringing to mind descriptors such as “folksy” and the “common-man.” Clearly, we have a piece that is directly addressing the social, political, and economic .
Ironers by Jacob Lawrence, gouache on paper, JACOB LAWRENCE IRONERS by Nathan Birnbaum This painting plays into the labeling of Jacob Lawrence’s early work as “primitive,” bringing to mind descriptors such as “folksy” and the “common-man.”. Jun 28, · Credit Jacob Lawrence/The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation/Artists Rights Society; Photograph courtesy The Phillips Collection One by one, the people left.
Jacob Lawrence witnessed the innovative and improvised lifestyles created by the convergence of the Great Migration, the Depression, the Jazz Age, and the Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by the Harlem community's interest in the stories of its heritage, Lawrence .