Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 5

Struggle_Panel 5

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 5: We have no property! We have no wives! No children! We have no city! No country!– Petition of Many Slaves, 1773, 1955. Egg tempera on hardboard, 12 x 16 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week. Read the introductory post here.

We have no property! We have no wives! No children! We have no city! No country! —Petition of Many Slaves, 1773

The struggle here is related to a slave revolt. The gold-colored mountain or wall in the center is representative of the impenetrable American government that refused to listen to the slaves’ petitions for a better, free life. Lawrence composed this panel to emphasize hardship, but still an unwavering courage to continue fighting.

One of the slaves who participated in a petition for emancipation in 1773 was Felix Holbrook. Holbrook was living in Boston and was a neutralist. This caption is a quote in a letter that Holbrook wrote to the provincial legislature of Massachusetts. He wrote the letter on behalf of his fellow slaves with the intention of finally gaining freedom. The letter was one in a series of four petitions. Holbrook narrates a life of hardship in his petition that compliments Lawrence’s ability to capture the fed-up, but forever brave sentiment of Felix’s letter.

Amy Woo

ArtGrams: The Laib Wax Room

Laib Wax Room_3_pottergriffin

Via Instagrammer @pottergriffin: “#tbt to my parents visiting the Wolfgang Laib #waxroom at the #phillipscollection this past Sunday. I think my dad is pretending to be a bee. They flew back home this morning and I miss them already.”

The Laib Wax Room has been a visitor favorite since its installment in 2013. In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re highlighting some of your creative shots of the space.

Laib Wax Room_6_grandnostaflash

Via Instagrammer @grandnostaflash

Laib Wax Room_2_ginacrat

Via Instagrammer @ginacrat: “Evan sniffing the beeswax room”

Laib Wax Room_7_thenocallshow

Via Instagrammer @thenocallshow: “Ms. @cecilemouthon in a room made of beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_1_amperrlee

Via Instagrammer @amperrlee: “Just casually standing in a teeny room, lined with beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_5_goholmes

Via Instagrammer @goholmes: “room of wax, featuring rashonda harris”

 

Frankenthaler and Motherwell: A Painterly Marriage

Motherwell in white and yellow ochre_Frankenthaler runningscape

(left) Robert Motherwell, In White and Yellow Ochre, 1961. Oil, charcoal, ink, tempera and paper collage on paper, 40 7/8 x 27 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, acquired 1965. Art © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY (right) Helen Frankenthaler, Runningscape, 1962. Oil on canvas, 32 in x 52 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Gifford and Joann Phillips, 2009; © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Two of the Phillips’s most cherished Abstract Expressionist artists, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, shared more than a style of painting: they were also married from 1958 to 1971. Currently, a group of the couple’s works from the museum’s permanent collection are on display in neighboring galleries. Four of my favorites are Canyon and Runningscape, both by Frankenthaler, and In White and Yellow Ochre and Chi Ama, Crede by Motherwell.

Studying these works in a group, I began to think of the differences in the two artists’ styles, despite the fact that all four of the works were created in the early 1960s. I compared the soft applications of oil and acrylic in both of Frankenthaler’s works to the more aggressive elements in Motherwell’s. Utilizing varied textures, Motherwell’s In White and Yellow Ochre combines mediums with collaged materials, resulting in a harsher design and abstracted contours. In contrast, Frankenthaler uses oil paint like watercolor in Runningscape, thinning it into washes that bleed into each other to create a fluid design. Each of the artists’ larger pieces—Frankenthaler’s Canyon and Motherwell’s Chi Ama, Crede—also contain these distinctions, Canyon being composed of expansive fields of saturated color and Chi Ama, Crede of jagged applications in dull maroons and browns.

Frankenthaler canyon_Motherwell chi ama crede

(left) Helen Frankenthaler, Canyon, 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 46 1/8 in x 52 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions and funds given by Gifford Phillips, 2001; © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (right) Robert Motherwell, Chi Ama, Crede, 1962. Oil on canvas, 82 x 141 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, The Whitehead Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Marc E. Leland, and the Honorable Ann Winkelman Brown and Donald A. Brown, 1998; Art © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

What is interesting is that both artists were influenced by the same group of contemporaries: Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. They also created these works in the early years of their marriage, when they were likely collaborating and comparing painting techniques. Their differences are thus results of their own personal styles retained throughout their independent careers. Frankenthaler’s paintings are distinctly feminine, whereas Motherwell’s works have a more aggressive appearance of masculinity. This pair of artists serve as a unique look at the female and male perspectives on a specific movement of art.

Annie Dolan, Marketing and Communications Intern