Although Norman Lewis (1909-79) was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist ex·pres·sion·ism
A movement in the arts during the early part of the 20th century that emphasized subjective expression of the artist's inner experiences.
ex·pres , his contribution to the New York School New York school
Painters who participated in the development of contemporary art, particularly Abstract Expressionism, in or around New York City in the 1940s and '50s. has largely been forgotten. His recent rediscovery, however, has begun to rectify this state of affairs and to reveal how the African-American artist forged a unique path within a normatively white movement. This modest show of sixteen works on paper from 1945 to 1975, entitled "Intuitive Markings," could only hint at Lewis's stylistic range, but it nevertheless confirmed that his artistic preoccupations reflected an abiding need to represent the African-American experience as much as to engage abstraction and formalist innovation.
As an artist schooled in naturalism, Lewis came out of the circle surrounding sculptor Augusta Savage during the late Harlem Renaissance and straggled to balance the social imperatives of his milieu with the prevailing formalist decrees of the art world. "The development of one's aesthetic abilities suffers from such emphasis [on social conflict]," rendering it "merely another form of illustration," he wrote in 1949. If Lewis never completely eclipsed the social realist roots evident in his work of the late '30s and early '40s, he gradually challenged them through the language of abstraction. Thus Lewis began to submerge sub·merge
v. sub·merged, sub·merg·ing, sub·merg·es
1. To place under water.
2. To cover with water; inundate.
3. To hide from view; obscure.
v.intr. his characters in an overriding pattern, as in an untitled work of 1945, in which a vestigial ves·tig·i·al
Occurring or persisting as a rudimentary or degenerate structure. figure seems caught in an overlay of rectilinear rec·ti·lin·e·ar
Moving in, consisting of, bounded by, or characterized by a straight line or lines: following a rectilinear path; rectilinear patterns in wallpaper. cages--perhaps a metaphor for the artist's own conflicted situation. In other works, a diverse group of characters are united within a particular formalist vocabulary. In Frolic Frolic - A Prolog system in Common Lisp.
ftp://ftp.cs.utah.edu/pub/frolic.tar.Z. , ca. 1958, for example, a host of fashionable and colorful figures gleaned from Harlem street life merge into a riotous mass of striated striated /stri·at·ed/ (stri´at-ed) having stripes or striae.
having streaks or striae, e.g. striate retinopathy.
see brush border. lines, as Lewis plays the language of social commentary against one of linear abstraction.
This coexistence of representation and abstraction is perhaps nowhere more poignant than in Limits, 1954, in which darkly shadowed crosses spread across a light beige ground. Formally this work could be read as anything from an illusionistic version of Lucio Fontana's torn canvases to the blurred forms of distant stars pulsating in the darkening dark·en
v. dark·ened, dark·en·ing, dark·ens
a. To make dark or darker.
b. To give a darker hue to.
2. To fill with sadness; make gloomy.
3. haze of a summer night. But something more politically resonant is going on: The linear cruciforms gradually become a harrowing image of welts and scars, the aftermath of a slave whipping. This social content pierces Lewis's carefully orchestrated field of forms and colors.
Although his fellow AbExers shared a common interest in Jung, it is hard to consider Lewis's achievement as emerging from any sea of universal symbolism. His subtle suspension of form and content is scarcely the product of intuition alone. Unity and division, cohesion and dissipation, all dynamic conditions of color harmony and dissonance and of static versus vibrant composition--these are the conditions that Lewis employed in his complexly personal (socially conscious) aesthetic purpose. Along with addressing the transcendent subject matter of the American Abstract Artists with whom he exhibited, Lewis continued throughout his oeuvre to attenuate To reduce the force or severity; to lessen a relationship or connection between two objects.
In Criminal Procedure, the relationship between an illegal search and a confession may be sufficiently attenuated as to remove the confession from the protection afforded by the his own presence in the world, never forgetting the particulars of the African-American experience--embodied by the narratives of urban families and workers--that governed his earlier realist style.