Tag Archives: jacob lawrence

The Wedding

Artist: Jacob Lawrence
Medium: egg tempera on hardboard
Date: c. 1948

Jacob Lawrence once wrote, “For me, the most important function of art is observation.” In The Wedding, Lawrence simultaneously depicts the solemnity and the joy of the marriage ceremony. Although the preacher’s face is only partially defined, he appears to look down with great seriousness at the couple as they contemplate their vows. The large, colorful urns overflowing with brilliant flowers signify the happiness of the scene and may also represent the future prosperity of this union.

The Builders

Artist: Jacob Lawrence
Medium: tempera on board
Date: c. 1947

The Builders Series communicates Lawrence’s belief in the possibility of building a better world through skill, ingenuity, hard work, and collaboration. The Builders concept first appeared in Lawrence’s work in the mid-1940s, and by the late 1960s had became a major theme of his artwork. For the last three decades of his life, Lawrence consistently pursued the Builders motif, creating a sequence of vibrant modernist images that highlight his pervasive humanist vision.

His subjects were carpenters, cabinetmakers, bricklayers, and construction workers in a variety of workaday and family situations. Overall, they came to symbolize some of his larger ideas about American culture, hope, persistence, and the shared responsibility for transforming society, inspired, as he once said, by his “own observations of the human condition.”

Away from Harlem and the urban environment that he had grown up in, Lawrence increasingly pursued more symbolic and universal subjects that were less overtly grounded in contemporary social issues than much of his earlier art. At the same time, the new work was also the result of his continued growth as an artist. As he explained in 1974, it was a “broadening of imagery, an expansion of my humanist concept. … like most artists, I’m expanding, probing, constantly seeking new symbols—always within the humanist context.”

And the Migrants Kept Coming (Panel #60)

Artist: Jacob Lawrence
Medium: tempera on panel board
Date: c.1941

Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, is a sequence of 60 paintings, depicting the mass migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II—a development which had previously received little public attention.

Lawrence, with the help of his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight, spent months preparing the 60 boards and distilling the subject matter into captions. He created the paintings in tempera, a water-base paint that dries rapidly. To keep the colors consistent, Lawrence applied one hue at a time to every painting where it was to appear, requiring him to plan all 60 paintings in detail at once.

The series was the subject of a solo show at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan in 1941, making Lawrence the first black artist represented by a prominent New York gallery.