Today is the 4th of July and I’m thinking about American artist Jacob Lawrence whose paintings I saw for about the fiftieth time this past week. Each time I walk the perimeter of a gallery with “The Migration Series” paintings on the walls, there’s something new to discover — a gesture, a unique and colorful shape, a ray of light, a caption previously missed — and I experience them more deeply. In the 60 panels, Mr. Lawrence depicts the stories of African Americans who trekked from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II. Each one honors the hardships, labors, talents, strength of family, and resilience among Black Americans.
The series is now split in half between The Phillips Collection in DC and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I know intellectually that with art, collections are split up for many reasons, mostly so that people all over the world can enjoy the works of masters. But the divide of this particular collection seems to carry a symbolic weight to me… mirroring how countless black families were wrenched apart during the tragedy that was U.S. slavery, and the more recent inhumane separations of thousands of immigrant children from their parents along the U.S. border — separations ordered by the Trump administration.
I’d love to hear which American artists impact you most deeply.