Norman Lewis, 1909-1979; the figurative work of an Abstract Expressionist of the first hour

The photograph is of Norman Lewis.  I don’t know the date.

An exhibition until April 2016 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.  A reminder that the Abstract Expressionists were committed to the presentation of life.  Their ideas infused their experimentation: life over ideas.

We have now gone through decades of ideas over life.  Until we arrive at the the emptiness of the works of  Peter Marioni’s moribund ‘ high modernism’ (currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art).  He is committed to ideas.  But an empty one:  the autonomy of the painted picture as a entity which processes light.  As though it were organic and could walk off the walls.   The resultant paintings are as inert as the idea.

Norman Lewis, a New Yorker, an Abstract Expressionist of the first hour, was a Bermudan by descent. 

His work expressed the life of Harlemites among whom he lived, his interest in the natural world, his effort to reconcile a representation of the social conflict of his time with his aesthetic values; and his interest in humans gathering for ritual, festival, shopping, and political action.

He started painting in his mid-20s from an intense interest in art after years of other kinds of work and wartime service.  For twelve or fourteen years, his work was figurative. He was trained in many kinds of needlework when he was young and trying to make a living.  He made clothes and continued to do so most of his life. His interest in colours and patterns and stuff is obvious.

Had be been white, he may well have achieved significant fame.  

Early Norman Lewis-02

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Early Norman Lewis-10

Two Women Reading; and detail; oil on canvas; 1940

Early Norman Lewis-12

Police Beating (Untitled), 1943; ink, graphite, watercolor on paper.

Early Norman Lewis-15

Early Norman Lewis-13

Early Norman Lewis-14

Meeting Place aka Shopping; and details; 1941; oil on canvas.

Early Norman Lewis-17

Title Unknown (Man with Yellow Hands); 1946; oil on canvas.

Early Norman Lewis-20

Fish Eaters; 1944; ink and watercolor on paper (hard times)

Early Norman Lewis-21

Potato eaters; 1945; oil on canvas (hard times)

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