Happy Birthday to Harlem Sensation Jacob Lawrence

Harlem sensation Jacob Lawrence would have been 96 today, but did you know the late painter came to national prominence at just 23? And, with a palette reflecting the vibrancy of mid-twentieth-century New York, Lawrence’s cubist-inspired scenes of African-American struggle feel potent even now.

At right, take a look at the way he merges the uplifting and cryptic. The Visitors points to the union of life and death, Protest Rally juxtaposes the heated crowd with a solemn nun and priest, and Confrontation at the Bridge from An American Portrait Volume II: Not Songs of Loyalty Alone makes opposition nearly elemental.

Lawrence wrote to abstract painter Josef Albers in 1946, “My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life. If he has developed this philosophy he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas.” Unsurprisingly, the artist lives on as he always did: far beyond his years.

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