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In Memoriam Jacob Lawrence.

1917 - 2000

On June 9, 2000, we mourned the death of one of America's preeminent modern figurative painters--Jacob Lawrence. People around the world felt the immeasurable loss of one of the most vivid visual storytellers of the 20th century. Considered by many to be an American icon, his passing came just as the most ambitious collection of his work ever compiled was to be published.

The Complete Jacob Lawrence--Two Volume Set Jacob Lawrence: Paintings, Drawings, and Murals (1935-1999)

Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle DuBois University of Washington Press, October 2000, $125.00, ISBN 0-295-97966-6

Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence

Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle DuBois, Ed. University of Washington Press, October 2000, $125.00, ISBN 0-295-97963-1

This two-volume set is the result of six years of research by the Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonne project. Led by Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle DuBois, the catalogue documents over 900 pieces of the artist's work, over half of which were reportedly uncovered by the project. Over the Line is the companion to the Catalogue Raisonne. Edited by Nesbett and DuBois, this collection of essays explores the life of the man, and the development of the artist. Contributing art historians and scholars including Lizetta LaFalle Collins, Richard Powell and Lowery Stokes Sims provide vital biographical information on Lawrence and discuss his artistic career in the context of African American history, as well as American art and society as a whole. These new and necessary dialogues provide a broader view of the artist and his work. Filled with images and information about the artist, these texts are wonderful tools for artists, historians, students and anyone interested in knowing more about a significant 20th century American artist.

--Reviewed by Jonell Jaime

Lawrence began his career painting genre scenes focused on life in his Harlem neighborhood. With a keen sense of chronological narrative, he often developed his work in series format to illuminate key moments. Tackling tough subjects like war, poverty and street life, his work took people into the interior of public events that impacted the personal lives of many in the black community.

Born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Lawrence and his family relocated first to Pennsylvania and then to Harlem in 1930. Lawrence began taking arts and crafts classes in after-school programs with established African American artist Charles Alston and went on to attend the American Artists School. By the time he was 21, with the assistance of African American sculptor Augusta Savage, he was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). During this time he met leading cultural figures associated with the Harlem Renaissance, including artists William H. Johnson and Aaron Douglas and writers Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and Alaine Locke.

Lawrence found his unique voice early on. His paired-down painting style coupled beautifully with saturated color, geometric forms and complex compositions with social realist subject matter marked him as a visionary artist of the people. With a solid visual backbone, immaculate craftsmanship and community-based story lines, he enveloped Harlem residents, church congregations, university students, art critics and international audiences all in the same warm embrace.

Throughout his career, the artist paid homage to black liberation heroes including Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Harriet Tubman. Having received a grant in 1940, Lawrence was able to rent a studio and begin the body of work that would catapult his career. In a dilapidated studio lacking heat and running water, Lawrence devoted a series of paintings to the Great Migration. By the age of 24, the tremendous resonance and passionate beauty of this series made Lawrence an internationally reknown artist.

But this was just the beginning of his contributions to American art and culture. In the '50s and '60s' Lawrence's images grew increasingly political, and throughout the latter half of the 20th century he was commissioned to paint murals and create mosaics to adorn and inform public spaces.

By the time of his death at age 82, Lawrence had been the subject of several major career retrospectives. Indeed, at the very moment of his passing another retrospective, set to open in 2001, was being organized by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Lawrence's personality, work and vision continues to inspire a plethora of artists to make work that highlights the human experience and tells the story of our social condition.

--Reviewed by Sandra Jackson BIBR Associate Editor

Teaching the Children

Jacob Lawrence's work for children stands without peer. In these works Lawrence brings his own gift of aesthetic beauty to tales of heroism and strength from well-known episodes in black history. Here are some titles to share with a young person you love:

Aesop's Fables illustrated by Jacob Lawrence University of Washington Press, 1997, $18.95, ISBN 0-295-97641-1 Ages 9-11

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Jacob Lawrence Simon & Schuster, 1996, $16.00, ISBN 0-689-80126-2, Ages 9-12

Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence by Jacob Lawrence and John Duggleby Chronicle Books, 1998, $16.95, ISBN 0-811-82082-3, Ages 9-12

Harriet and the Promised Land by Jacob Lawrence Alladdin Paperbacks, 1997, $5.99, ISBN 0-689-80965-4

The Great Migration by Jacob Lawrence HarperTrophy, 1995, $8.95, ISBN 0-064-43428-1
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ellis, Kelly
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:Setting the Welcome Table.
Next Article:Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico.

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