As one might infer from several recent posts, I’ve been learning as much as I can of late about one of the best known (and rightly so) African-American painters, Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). As it happens to be Sunday, I thought to share one of Lawrence’s later series of paintings (gouache on paper), Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis (1989) (below: ‘Genesis Creation Sermon’ series). In part, I’m also compensating for the fact that, teaching a course on “world religions” in a philosophy department, I have precious little opportunity to discuss (let alone show examples of) religious art (exceptions being a few words on Eastern Orthodox icons owing to the debate between iconodules and iconoclasts; Islamic calligraphy; and Buddhist stupas). The images here are courtesy of the “The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art” at The SCAD Museum of Art, associated with The Savannah College of Art and Design. What follows is their introduction to the series (hyperlinks added) and the paintings, in numerical order, with captions.
“Based on biblical texts and his own memory of the Sunday sermons of the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem [where Lawrence was baptized], New York, Jacob Lawrence’s ‘Genesis Creation Sermon’ series delivers a richly personal interpretation. Inspired by realism and details of iconography, Lawrence’s ‘Genesis Creation Sermon’ series also reveals his interest in references from art history. The bright colors and expressive, monumental preacher figure that stands central in each work reflect the artist’s affinity for action and resonance given in the sermon. The gestural movements of the preacher figure engage the viewer in the immediate foreground while also leading to a middle ground containing parish members watching in awe. In the background, four arched windows exhibit an exterior scene beyond the church that encompasses the theme of each Genesis Creation panel. Together, the ‘Genesis Creation Sermon’ series depicts a unique narrative universally celebrated and one that is unique to American art.”
3. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth the grass, trees, fruits, and herbs.”
4. And God created the day and the night, and God created and put the stars in the sky.