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Jacob Lawrence was one of the best-known African American artists of the twentieth century. In Painting Harlem Modern, Patricia Hills renders a vivid assessment of Lawrence's long and productive career. She argues that his complex, cubist-based paintings developed out of a vital connection with a modern Harlem that was filled with artists, writers, musicians, and social activists. She also uniquely positions Lawrence alongside such important African American writers as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. Drawing from a wide range of archival materials and interviews with artists, Hills interprets Lawrence's art as distilled from a life of struggle and perseverance. She brings insightful analysis to his work, beginning with the 1930s street scenes that provided Harlem with its pictorial image, and follows each decade of Lawrence's work, with accounts that include his impressions of Southern Jim Crow segregation and a groundbreaking discussion of Lawrence's symbolic use of masks and masking during the 1950s Cold War era. Painting Harlem Modern is an absorbing book that highlights Lawrence's heroic efforts to meet his many challenges while remaining true to his humanist values and artistic vision.
About the Author
Patricia Hills is Professor Emerita of Art History at Boston University and is the author of Modern Art in the USA: Issues and Controversies of the Twentieth Century and contributed to Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence.
“Based on exhaustive research and interviews, this thoughtful and comprehensive biography makes a good case for recognizing Jacob Lawrence as among the finest American artists of the 20th century. . . . [Hills’] empathetic analyses will make this the definitive biography of Lawrence for a very long time.”
“The book is the most thorough analysis available of Lawrence’s work and a valuable contribution to American art history as well as African-American studies.”
— The Artblog
“Hills knows a great deal about her subjects - Lawrence and the Harlem in which he lived and worked for much of his life - and this will be an essential book for those who study these subjects.”
— Art New England
“Hills offers a beautifully illustrated, critical assessment . . . By paying close attention to Lawrence’s sophisticated imagery and situating his work within its rich cultural and political contexts, Hills provides a much-needed analytical discussion of his oeuvre and a thoughtful account of race in 20th-century American art and life. . . . Highly recommended.”