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Jacob Lawrence 19172000
In about 1965, when Jacob Lawrence began this self-portrait, his was the face of "Negro" art for white America. The 1941 exhibition of his epic painting cycle, The Migration of the Negro, had firmly established his reputation with its moving story and abstract power. Lawrence loved the color and pattern he saw in his Harlem community. Composition, color, and pattern infused his art as he began to paint the black experience. The human face was to Lawrence just another shape to be simplified or distorted for expression. Lawrence rarely attempted portraiture, which makes the small group of self-portraits that he made around 1965 even more intriguing. In 1996, Lawrence returned to this drawing and updated it by thickening the lines. Adding wide bands of black around the face, he changed its contours to a single sweeping curve, transforming a linear drawing into a muscular interplay of contrasting values. The expression of the face reflected both the strength and the new anxieties of his advancing age.

Ink and gouache over charcoal on paper, circa 1965 and 1996
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence
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