Art in the Library : The Library

TheLibrary_1960_JacobLawrence

The Library, 1960 by Jacob Lawrence
Link to the Smithsonian American Art Museum

If you’ve ever printed anything at the printers in the alcove, you may have noticed this print. At first glance, it’s a blur of brown blocks with swashes of blue and red and green mixed in. It’s not until you focus on it do you see people bent over books and newspapers, reading and studying. Some even look like they’re napping. It’s actually a common scene when you wander through the library on a Monday afternoon. Most every chair is full, and people are struggling to maintain concentration or furiously write a paper.

Jacob Lawrence is one of my personal favorite artists. I took an African American Art class as an undergrad and was really captivated by his work. He would create a series of paintings (included 30-40, even 60 pieces) that would tell a story, most about people or events significant to African American history. They included Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, the post-World War I migration, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Jacob Lawrence, Originally photographed by Geoffery Clements. Featured on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.

“I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene.” ~Jacob Lawrence

Born in Atlantic City in 1917, he moved with his family to Harlem in 1930. He started taking art classes as a teenager at the 135th Street Branch Library. His skills and talent developed, and he became a key player in the Harlem Renaissance, mingling with other greats like Langston Hughes, August Savage, and Aaron Douglas. He secured a position with the WPA Federal Art Project which helped him through the Depression. He continued to paint, teach, and explore the world until his death in 2000.

Lawrence dubbed his style “dynamic cubism” and he approached his work systematically. When working on a series, he would complete the preliminary drawings for the entire series, lay out the paintings across the studio, and then paint one color at a time on each piece. Doing so would bring consistency and cohesion to the series. I imagine working this way enabled him to maintain the vision of the entire project without getting fixated and lost on one smaller aspect of the entire story he was conveying.

“My work is abstract in the sense of having been designed and composed, but it is not abstract in the sense of having no human content . . . [I] want to communicate. I want the idea to strike right away.” ~Lawrence, 1945 interview, quoted in Wheat, Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, 1986

The Lovers, 1946

The Lovers, 1946

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Art in the Law Library: Cloud and Sea

Photo of Exhibition Poster at the Art Institute of Chicago by Lori L. Stalteri

Photo of Exhibition Poster at the Art Institute of Chicago by Lori L. Stalteri

By Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Cloud and Sea (1964) is a piece you may have seen in the 130s study area/Reading Room. The original is 30×60 inches and is porcelain enamel on steel. Lichtenstein is one of the leading artists in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. This modern art explores the imagery of everyday, American consumer culture. The artists of this style looked to advertisements, packaging (think Andy Warhol’s famous soup can), celebrity photos, and comic strips. Lichtenstein was inspired by advertisements and comic books, specifically DC Comics’ All-American Men of War, Girls Romances, and Secret Hearts.

[Pop Art] is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us.

- Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Art News, November 1963

"Drowning Girl" by Roy Lichtenstein

“Drowning Girl” by Roy Lichtenstein

Lichtenstein was born and raised in New York City and upon graduation from the Franklin School for Boys, he attended Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He served in Europe during World War II, and upon his return he completed his Bachelors of Fine Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts from Ohio State. He taught briefly at Ohio State before moving to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked as a window-display designer for a department, an industrial designer, and a commercial-art instructor. All the while, he worked on his art and held exhibitions in Cleveland and New York City. He later became an assistant professor of art at the State University of New York at Oswego and then assistant professor of art at Douglass College, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. It was during his professorial days that he began experimenting with his style and medium to what we are familiar with today.

Roy Lichtenstein Landscape

Roy Lichtenstein Landscape

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