Jacob Lawrence’s Artworks

The late 1940’s was characterized by the abstractionism and the realism artistic styles. Born in the same era, Lawrence instead would reject these artistic styles in favor of his own styles, where he made alive paintings of human figures, mostly African-Americans, whom he depicted in different activities. In his paintings, Lawrence’s artwork were full of dignity and grace and employed different sources,  colors and design, with repetitive patterns to tell different stories and messages of human triumph. Lawrence made several artworks, which includes The Migration of the Negro, The Harriet Tubman Series, They were very poor, Pool Parlor, The Builders and Dreams, among other paintings.

The Migration of the Negro, Panel No. 49

            The Migration of the Negro has been hailed as one of the most famous paintings of Jacob Lawrence. The paintings are broad in scope with dramatic exposition, depicting the movement of African-American to the North in search of better housing, good jobs and to seek freedom from oppression (Berkowitz, 2017). The paintings were a result of the influence of his early childhood learning and the experiences that his parents underwent.  

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Discussion of the Visual Characteristics of the Migration of the Negro Panel No. 49

            In this series Lawrence aimed at explaining the migration of the African-Americans from the rural south to the urban north. The Migration of the Negro, Panel No. 49 depicts people dining in a restaurant. In the painting, Lawrence shows two sets of customers separated from each other by a yellow pole (American Art, n.d.). The painting represented a public restaurant in the north, where two races had their meals in separate areas.

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            The painting depicts the Harlem renaissance, after the First World War. In the painting Lawrence showed the extent of segregation that occurred in the north. The segregation in north affected many African-Americans especially, penetrating even public facilities. In the picture, the artist employed the yellow pole that that divided the races, showing the segregation in the public restaurant. In the painting, the forms hover in large spaces and the people belonging to the two races sit while not facing one another. This perhaps explains the extent of divide that existed between the two races in the north.

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            Lawrence employed different elements of art and principles of design in his paintings. In The Migration of the Negro, Panel No. 49, employed flattened and angular forms, with strong diagonals and varying contrasts of shadow and light. In the painting, the white man holding a menu list is the emphasis of the painting, with repetition of the black color to create rhythm and draw the attention of the viewer. The painting was created in an eye-level point of view, revealing the Harlem renaissance context.

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How Jacob Lawrence’s Works Tell Personal Stories about the Era in Which He Lived

            Jacob Lawrence’s artistic works are based in the sociocultural contexts that he grew in. During his early childhood, Lawrence read a lot about the experiences that his parents and other Harlem community members underwent. According to (Hills, 1993) Lawrence would recall stories told by his teachers and those he heard in history clubs and respond to them with his paintings. Furthermore, his great interest in the political and social experiences of his parents led to his numerous paintings. In his paintings, Lawrence depicted the political and social experiences during the life of the African-Americans in the north, after the First World War had ended. However, in most of his paintings, Lawrence depicted scenes that represented the Harlem life. In the numerous paintings that he created, all were product of his imagination of the events, routines and the ordinary tasks.  

            During the time of his paintings, the African-Americans, who constituted Lawrence’s subjects, were subject of oppression and racism. In north and south, the African-Americans faced segregation from their white masters and were also subjected to oppressive treatments. This can be seen in Lawrence’s paintings. For example, in The Migration Series, Panel No. 15, he depicts the oppressive treatment that the African-Americans received in the south. In the painting, Lawrence alludes to the fact that there were lynchings and depicted this through a painting that showed a mourner who is alone and seated next to a noose of a hangman (Lawrence& Bunch, 1993). In his paintings that depicted his subjects, he used a combination of colours and forms to create an expression of mood and the context of his paintings.

At first, it was expected that Lawrence’s artistic works would represent general themes of their life of an American citizen during the era in which the artworks were made. However, on further research and deep analysis, the opinion was altered and it has been discovered that indeed his artworks represented specific historical and cultural contexts. That most of his works represented the life in south and north among the African-Americans is evident in most of his artwork.

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