Jacob Lawrence, Jacob, Harriet Tubman discussed on Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen
By nineteen thirty nine Jacob Lawrence had already completed two major series on black heroic figures. Toussaint L'Ouverture Frederick Douglass. He was at work on a third covered the life of Harriet Tubman and now he began contemplating a new subject. Among the many supporters of Jacob Lawrence. His latest work was professor and Pylos for Lane. Lock by this time. Lock supported already. Gotten off forty-one panels up the lower series in an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art at just twenty one years of age Lawrence was featured in Newsweek and in a letter to lock Lawrence described his latest ambition. My proposed plan is to interpret in a sufficient number of panels eighteen by twelve the Great Negro Migration North during the World War on April Seventeenth Nineteen Forty Jacob received the news he had been selected to receive a fellowship of fifteen hundred dollars from the Rosenwasser Fund to complete his ambitious work on the great migration. I I read it I was. I think it was thirty. Three and all of the whole community was between limits and the seven thousand dollars and I pay eight dollars a month for loss and That was what I first studio. What am I work together? As what the previous three projects Lawrence didn't start with sketches but with research the great migration marked departure from his earlier. Work here's Patricia Hills. After Harriet Tubman he decided that rather than focus on the lives of unique individuals he was going to focus on the people. You know that it was a people's movement. Migration wasn't one single person who is the leader. Laura spent endless hours of Schaumburg Centre for Research Black Culture at the one hundred thirty Fifth Street Public Library. He studied the literature of W. E. Boys like historian Carter G Woodson and Emmett J Scott Whose Book Negro Migration during the war served as a backbone to the series. The final result was pretty much the inverse of how painters usually work rather than making a painting and anguishing over what to call it. Lawrence did just the opposite. He anguished over the titles for paintings before he even did. Preliminary sketches them Palo number to the world. War had caused a great shortage in northern industry and also citizens of foreign countries were returning home. Well we captions. Were very important to him. Because it was a history lesson he wanted people to look at the caption and look at the picture and see the relationship panel number four. The Negro was the largest source of labor to be found after all others had been exhausted. Panel number five. The negroes were given free passage on the railroads which was paid back by northern industry. It wasn't agreement that the people brought north on these railroads were to pay back their passage after they had received jobs and sometimes there is close relationships and sometimes there is a more tenuous relationship but basically he wanted you to think about. He wanted you to read the captions Pat on Number Forty One. The South that was interested in keeping cheap labor was making it very difficult for labor agents recruiting southern Labor for northern firms. In many instances they were put in jail and were forced to operate incognito. He wanted the pictures to be shown in order. That was very important to him. He has twenty works. That are about the south panel number thirteen due to the south losing so much of its. Labor. The crops were left to dry and spoil twenty about the north where the migrants went to panel number forty nine. They also found discrimination in the north although it was much different from that which they had known in the South and then twenty about the struggles of getting their marching of getting on the train. So waiting for the trainings of looking out the windows from the trains that number twelve the railroad stations at times so over packed with people leaving that special guards had to be called in to keep order. That's a wonderful series. If you look it from left to right you know. It goes the rhythms of Horizontal Vertical. And then another vertical and then another horizontal and there is a really rhythm there that almost be like a call and response as he's weaving together in the sixty panels so it's really a beautiful series the way it was orchestrated next. Lawrence translated his captions into studies. On paper which evolved into sketches on his final hardboard panels assisted by his then girlfriend. Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Brush several layers of rabbit. Skin Jess over hardboard panels and sand them smooth. The Jessica was notorious for leaving tiny air bubbles. Which when painted left white streaks throughout the painting Lawrence didn't paint one painting at a time he painted sixty in stages at the same time and completed the work one color at a time. I painted them. Columbine Colorado blocks through running the reds through each problem. I did this in Law to maintain unity not finish one panel. Then go to the next go to next because star might have changed. My approach might've changed panel number. Thirty seven the Negroes that have been brought north worked in large numbers and one of the principal industries which was steal by the way. I think of this as not works. What one work consistent sixty Powell's panel number nineteen there had always been discrimination so this to To maintain the unity spirit of what I was dealing panel number forty four living conditions were better in the north of the work was devout. Jacob is known as a master of temporary fast. Drying water base paint US mostly by illustrators and sign. Painters temporary is cheap and easily achieves bold pay colors through layering awhile. It's great for photographic reproduction the speed with which it dries and it's flat application makes it hard to convey nuanced effects like shadows and shading. It's a quality that highlights Lawrence's brilliant use of distorted angles and abstract compositions and see like moves lie. His moves are just great. Dirk Adams is a visual artist in New York. Like high implement certain like new color and every painting. He has his basic and very recognizable Paletta. He uses to our work but every now and then he ought throwing a certain type of pattern or color. That is just very unique to the narrative of that particular piece. One of the panels depicts a woman sitting at our kitchen table exhausted with her head. Down Panel numbers sixteen although the Negro was used to lynching he found this an opportune time for him to leave. Where one had occurred to me when I look at those paintings where the tables like pretty tilt it in perspective to almost looks like it's like leaning into your viewpoint as A person standing in front of the work. I feel like his tables invitation to be a participant. Deny even this painting. We're looking at right now. This woman leaning on the table. It almost like you can lift her up and say like girls go to bed or something. You rarely see paintings of Jacob where Jacob has done where the figure is addressing. You directly is really more about you being able to glimpse have a glimpse into a certain reality that you may or may not be necessarily connected to as a viewer and so you become a witness in some ways and so this way I like about the work. A lot is that is not really about you. The subject acknowledging you is about you acknowledging the experience of the subject do their reality so they're posturing to me always seem more about the plight. An attitude of the black subject at a time in the migration series Lawrence uses motifs such as trains crossroads ladders for example to bring depth and continuity to the series movement these symbols of movement to me loudest represent the big cities cities like New York and later when we arrived. Nineteen thirty my family. Seeing these fire escapes and seeing six story building from short. I saw these things up to but they didn't mean as much tooling. And here. I would see this pattern over and over again beautiful patterns and all to my paintings not only in the migration says louder Motif and I use it to to directly. I I use it. As part of the composition number three in every town negroes leaving by the hundreds to go north and enter into northern industry in the story of my Alicia Hall Moran and her husband Jason Moran or musicians whose work explores the legacies of the black experience. There are people there are birds. There is barren land and pure blue sky. The people have luggage under their arms and their mid stride. The TRIANGLE SHAPE. They make the pyramid sheep. The migration of birds does incorporate that first bird in the front breaking the air opening the space. And then the next to taking on some of that burden and then the air opening up for the ones in the back to rest and then they will take turns being in front and so I think the family the people being in such triangle one that reaches up towards the sky like we want more. We're going left in the country or right but this is to take.