ASL Vlog: Jacob Lawrence

Educator Lauren Ridloff discusses a work by Jacob Lawrence in the exhibition Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960.

Here we see art by Jacob Lawrence from his series of paintings called War Series 1946-1947. We see a narrative about World War II. From shipping out, to victory. His work is reminiscent of Egyptian wall paintings. The similarities are the profiles, the big eyes and the overlapping figures. Lawrence chose to focus on the bold abstract form instead of perspective and modeling. Lawrence believed that a person can’t tell just one story. That’s why he chose to tell a narrative — a story with many parts. 

Lawrence served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. During that time he was given the rank of Steward’s Mate. It was the only rank given to African American soldiers. His experience during World War II was extreme. He said his ship became “a hospital ship” as it transported over five thousand injured troops back home. Lawrence felt that it was not possible to verbalize what he saw. That it would cheapen the experience. So instead we see how he processed those experiences through his paintings. Lawrence was respected as one of the first early twentieth century African American artists. After he was discharged from the war, he started working on this series, the War Series, and he showed his work.The Whitney Museum was the first place to show Lawrence’s work.