who is jacob lawrence
For Jacob Lawrence’s education, he took Works Progress Administration art classes in New York (1934-1937) and he also studied at Harlem Art Workshop in New York in 1937.  Harlem provided crucial training for the majority of black artists in the United States. Lawrence was one of the first artists trained in and by the African-American community in Harlem.  Throughout his lengthy artistic career, Lawrence concentrated on exploring the history and struggles of African Americans. He often portrayed important periods in African-American history. The artist was 21 years old when his series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the revolution of the slaves that eventually gained independence, was shown in an exhibit of African-American artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This impressive work was followed by a series of paintings of the lives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as a series of pieces about the abolitionist John Brown. Harlem artist Charles Allston instantly recognized Lawrence’s talent. “The place of Jacob Lawrence among younger painters is unique,” Allston said. “Having thus far miraculously escaped the imprint of academic ideas and current vogues in art, to which young artists are most susceptible, he has followed a course of development dictated entirely by his own inner motivations.” 
After many years in New York, in 1970 Lawrence and Knight moved to the Pacific Northwest, where he had been invited to be an art professor at the University of Washington. They settled in Seattle. Some of his works are displayed in the university’s Meany Hall for the Performing Arts and in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. Lawrence’s painting Theater, installed in the main lobby of Meany Hall, was commissioned by the University in 1985 for that space.
Have we become, as a result of this moving North, an integrated society? Some raise the question, Have we become a post-racial society? I think in most cases the answers would be no. We’re never defined as a conglomerate in a sense of our national attitudes, except in times of war and such. That is part and parcel of the American experience. We have individualism and humanism … but it’s not racially bound all of the time. It’s just one looking at one’s self.
Jake had a radical mind in a sense that he was so far ahead of his time. He could see beyond the contours of time and history.
“He was a quiet individual who listened, looked, watched, absorbed all of what was going on around him,” according to Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at Smithsonian American Art Museum, home to nearly a dozen of Lawrence’s works.
During his six decades as a practicing painter, Lawrence influenced a number of other artists. He began teaching at Pratt Institute in 1956 and, when the Lawrences lived in Nigeria in the early 60s, he offered workshops to young artists in Lagos. After stints teaching at the New School, Art Students League and Brandeis University, his final move was to Seattle in 1971 for a professorship at University of Washington. Lawrence’s celebrated career was filled with further milestones: he was a representative for the United States at 1956 Venice Biennale and he was awarded both the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1970 and the National Medal of Arts in 1990. Until his death in 2000, he continued to paint and exhibit his work, even during a brief period spent in a psychiatric institution recovering from stress and exhaustion.
With This is Harlem, Lawrence transformed a busy Harlem neighborhood into a series of geometric abstract planes connected to each other by a limited, consistent color palette of brown, blue, yellow, red, black, white, and burnt-red-orange tones. On the roof of the buildings, rectangles and triangles in red, yellow, brown, and black create a back-and-forth interplay between abstraction and figuration. They appear to be chimneys and various structures and at the same time suggest geometric, abstract paintings. Similarly, the human figures populating the Harlem landscape, created with minimal detail and in the same unmodulated color tones Lawrence used for the landscape, appear to dissolve into abstract color planes as much as they represent unique actors, going about the business of daily life.
The full text of Panel 22 from The Migration of the Negro series reads: “Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation.”
In 1962, Lawrence and Gwendolyn traveled to Nigeria, where his Migration series was being exhibited. While there, Lawrence lectured on African sculpture’s role in the development of European and American avant-garde movements, particularly Cubism. The couple returned to Nigeria in 1964, but, upon their arrival, Lawrence and Gwendolyn were blacklisted, unable to secure housing, and under constant surveillance by the U.S. Government due to Lawrence’s tangential affiliations with communist and communist-related groups back in America. Despite these circumstances, Lawrence’s time in Africa was formative in his development as an artist and an educator, and Lawrence arranged for a cross-continental exchange of artistic knowledge, as Lawrence organized an exhibition of Black American artists in Senegal, and both Lawrence and Gwendolyn exhibited their works abroad.
At midcentury and following his hospitalization, Lawrence’s artistic style reached a new level of maturity, straddling the divide between abstraction and figuration with a new and bold geometricizing approach. He was no longer interested in repeating his past successes but in breaking new compositional and narrative ground. Though Lawrence’s mature period coincided with the establishment of black artist groups in New York in the 1960s and though he would later exert considerable influence on contemporary black artists, Lawrence remained outside of these art circles due to his already-prominent stature in the art world. When Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, Emma Amos, and others formed the group Spiral in 1963, for instance, it was made clear to both Lawrence and Gwendolyn Lawrence that their help was not needed, as Spiral aspired to increase visibility for its own artists.