The Prints of Jacob Lawrence at the Harn Museum of Art
Visit the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville through August 5 to view bold and colorful works by influential artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence provides a comprehensive overview of Lawrence’s printmaking oeuvre, featuring more than ninety works produced from 1963 to 2000. The exhibition explores three major themes that occupied the artist’s graphic works: history, labor and life.
Lawrence started exploring printmaking as an already well-established artist. Printmaking suited his bold formal and narrative style exceptionally well. The relationship between his painting and printmaking is intertwined, with the artist revisiting and remaking earlier paintings as prints. The inherent multiplicity of this medium provided an opportunity for the artist to reach broader audiences.
Lawrence was primarily concerned with the narration of African-American experiences and histories. His acute observations of community life, work, struggle and civil rights during his lifetime are rendered alongside vividly imagined chronicles of the past. The past and present in his practice are intrinsically linked, providing insight into the social, economic and political realities that continue to impact and shape contemporary society today.
Lawrence’s history-themed prints focus on narrating the lives of heroic figures. The prints are based on his earlier paintings, created as a sequence of small panels that told real-life stories of each hero or heroine and highlighted their courage and perseverance. Years later, Lawrence recreated many of these narrative paintings as limited-edition prints which are on view in the exhibition. Heroic figures featured in the exhibition include Harriet Tubman, Toussaint L’Ouverture and John Brown.
Forward Together, an early print, depicts the story of Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913), who escaped slavery and dedicated her life to leading hundreds of enslaved people to freedom via the Underground Railroad. The work shows Tubman leading a group of men, women and children through a forest by night. Lawrence highlights the heroine by draping Tubman in eye-catching red. He communicates her mission clearly — with one protective arm she reaches
out encouragingly to the group, and with the other she points the way ahead to the North Star and freedom.
Toussaint (1743-1803) was born into slavery in Saint-Domingue, the French colony that would become Haiti, eventually becoming a freed plantation steward and a property owner. He joined in the slave revolt of 1791, rising to commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army and eventually governor of Saint-Domingue. Toussaint directed the creation of Haiti’s
constitution abolishing slavery, but soon after was seized and deported. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture series follows an account of this leader of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), a formative moment of liberation against colonial forces.
The portfolio The Legend of John Brown (1800-1859) is a narrative commentary of a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery but failed in 1859 when he led a twenty one-man raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was thwarted, however, by local farmers, militiamen, and marines led by Robert E. Lee.