Prints of Jacob Lawrence, Renowned African American Artist at Hudson River Museum

Jacob Lawrence, born in 1917, became one of the most important African American artists of the twentieth century, renowned for his paintings of African Americans and black people of other lands who struggled for freedom. Open through June 6, 2010.

Jacob Lawrence Prints, 1963 – 2000, at the Hudson River Museum through June 6, 2010, include 81 of Lawrence’s brilliantly-colored individual prints as well as three series of prints that show his versatility as an artist and storyteller. The Legend of John Brown series depicts a deeply religious and passionately anti-slavery John Brown, who felt called to violent insurrection to dismantle the institution of slavery in the United States; the Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis series is based on Lawrence’s memories of the Baptist ministers of his youth, whose sermons contained stories of Creation; and the series on Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture focuses on the Haitian slave who became the commander of the revolutionary army that fought France and England for Haiti’s freedom.

A key theme of this exhibition is struggle. As Lawrence himself said, “I am dealing with struggle throughout my work, I think struggle is a beautiful thing. I think it has made our country what it is, starting with the American Revolution. I would like to think of the struggle in my work as not being just a black symbol, but a symbol of man’s capacity to endure and triumph.”

Before he was twenty, Jacob Lawrence developed a powerful, concise style that expressed all of the vibrancy and pathos of his Harlem neighborhood and its residents. He drew his material from the colors, sounds, and sites of the Harlem Renaissance. Although born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, his family moved, in 1930, to Harlem, the focal point of African American culture.

A painter, illustrator, and educator, Lawrence received his early art training at the Utopia Settlement House in Philadelphia. He followed with study at the Harlem Art Center and the American Artists School. He first gained national prominence with The Migration of the Negro series, which was shown at New York’s Downtown Gallery. The first African American to be represented by a major New York gallery, he was also the subject of a lengthy profile in Fortune magazine. In 1946, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and his teaching career began as well. Among the places he taught were Black Mountain College, Pratt Institute, Brandeis University, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Printmaking provided Lawrence with the means of supporting the social causes close to his heart. From his first published lithograph in 1963, he produced a dynamic body of prints exploring universal issues of equality, unity, and hope in his distinctive, personal style of flat, overlapping shapes influenced by modern art. His work evolved into a style he termed “dynamic cubism,” that was deeply influenced by the Social Realism of American art in the 1930s. Before his death in Year 2000, Lawrence received numerous awards such as the National Medal of Arts in 1990.

Jacob Lawrence Prints, 1963-2000, A Comprehensive Survey is presented courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

The Hudson River Museum is located at 511 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers NY. Minutes from the Saw Mill River Parkway, exit 9, north or southbound. Information and directions: 914.963.4550 and Wed – Sun 12- 5 pm. Fridays 12-7:30 pm. Admission: Adults $5; Seniors 62 & older and youth 5-16 $3. Fridays 5 to 7:30 pm free.

Image: Jacob Lawrence, “The Studio”, 1996. Lithograph