Art History 101

The Legacy of Jacob Lawrence

The late acclaimed artist Jacob Lawrence was born in New Jersey on September 7, 1917. At the age of 13, Jacob Lawrence moved with his family to Harlem, NY, and it was this relocation that helped shape his artistic voice and vision. Living at the center of the Harlem Renaissance, Lawerence became inspired by the flourishing community around him. This influenced him to make art and become the revered painter the world knows him as today.

As a prominent “dynamic cubist” painter, Lawrence began his artistic practice at a young age. He took several art classes in the early 1930s at the Utopia Neighborhood House, which artist Charles Alston ran. This artistic education allowed him to continue to perfect his art style and explore different mediums of art up until he was in high school. 

Informed by his experiences as a child of The Great Migration (1910–1970), Jacob Lawrence often painted tempera-based series of historical narratives from the perspective of a black man living in America. By age 21, Lawrence created his first renowned painting series, The Migration Series. Centering on the leader of the Haitian Revolution, General Toussaint L’Ouverture, this series comprises 41 paintings. Lawrence went on to create different historical series on subjects such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and his masterpiece on The Great Migration. Through intricate patterns, vividly colored brush strokes, and geometric forms, Jacob Lawerence helmed his own distinct artistic style of “dynamic cubism” inspired by both The Harlem Renaissance and cubism.

Jacob Lawrence continued to inspire and influence the community around him. In 1941, Lawrence became the first African American artist to have artwork acquired by The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). This was a historical moment that broke racial barriers amid segregation. Lawrence continued to have an illustrious career, highlighting black history and culture through beautiful, unique compositions until his death in 2000. 

In honor of Jacob Lawrence’s birthday, check out these five Saatchi Art artists inspired by the acclaimed painter.

Desiree Vaniecia

Based in Dallas, Texas, contemporary artist Desiree Vaniecia honors the strength and vulnerability of black women in her paintings. Through her brightly colored portraiture, Desiree carefully juxtaposes powerfully composed postures and body language against neutral facial expressions. Desiree invites each viewer to challenge the stereotypes crafted by society and media of black women. Desiree Vaniecia’s impressive body of work has been exhibited across Texas. See more of Desiree’s work here.

Demarcus McGaughey

Similar to Jacob Lawrence, mixed-media artist Demarcus McGaughey is influenced by the beauty, vibrancy, and resilience of people of color in America. Demarcus portrays these characteristics through rich colors and bold patterns. His artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at The Other Art Fair Brooklyn. See more of Demarcus’s work here.

Helena Cardow

Informed by her academic background, Helena Cardow’s paintings explore the intersectionality between race, gender, and sexuality. Her vivid, contrasting colored portraits invite the viewer to question the power of the gaze. Helena’s artwork has been featured across the UK, most recently at the Southwark Park Galleries in London, UK. See more of Helena’s work here.

Emmanuel Akolo

The people around him inspire Nigerian-based contemporary artist Emmanuel Akolo. Emmanuel’s earth-toned figurative art highlights his cultural community and documents social injustices. Through his artwork, he hopes to evoke love and tolerance across humanity. See more of Emmanuel’s work here.

Ekow Brew

Practicing in Ghana, Ekow Brew’s art explores the world from his perspective. Ekow creates new realms of realities through familiar figures and motifs in his colorful digital art. These altered realities represent his expressions as a reaction to the experiences he faces. Ekow Brew’s work has been exhibited across Ghana. See more of Ekow’s work here.

Love reading about all things art? You can have articles from Canvas, curated collections, and stories about emerging artists delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for the Saatchi Art Newsletter.