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Jacob Lawrence: A Distinct Perspective on Humanity's Triumphs
Jacob Lawrence, Carpenters, Lithograph on Rives BFK paper, edition of 300. 1977.

KALAMAZOO, MI.-Jacob Lawrence, an exhibition of works from one of the most influential artists to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance era, opens at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts on Saturday, January 26, 2008 and continues through Sunday, April 20.

A collection of more than 80 colorful prints produced between 1963 and 2000, Jacob Lawrence includes 36 individual pieces, as well as works from three of the artist’s narrative series: Prints based on his paintings from The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture series (1986-1997); The Legend of John Brown (1977); Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis (1989-90).

Born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Lawrence was 13 when he moved with his family to New York City, where his mother enrolled him in after-school art classes. After dropping out of high school at 16, Lawrence attended classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, taught by his mentor, African American artist Charles Alston.

Lawrence was just 22 when his series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture was shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This was the first of many series Lawrence painted to tell the stories of heroes and heroines in African American history. Along with Toussaint, he portrayed Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown.

Because he believed a single painting couldn’t fully express the achievements of these people, Lawrence would abandon traditional portrait concepts to create series of paintings that showed scenes from their lives.

At 23, Lawrence completed the 60-panel set of narrative paintings, Migration of the Negro. In the 1940s, Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and became one of the most celebrated African American painters in the country. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a major retrospective of his work, and in 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Lawrence continued to paint until a few weeks before his death in June 2000 at age 82.

The style that Lawrence developed in his paintings was influenced by Cubism, Expressionism and other modern art styles, but was also very much his own. He was intrigued by the human and architectural patterns he saw in the homes and on the streets of Harlem. Lawrence simplified the human figure to flat zones of color, emphasizing gestures, shapes and positions to communicate individual emotions relating to universal themes of sadness and hope, struggle and triumph.

Jacob Lawrence is sponsored by Prudential Preferred, REALTORS®. The exhibition is free of charge and open during the KIA’s normal gallery hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

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