Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 13

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.

Struggle_Panel 13

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 13: Victory and Defeat, 1955. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 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 panel depicts the surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, a battle which is remembered as the last major engagement of the American Revolution, effectively ending the conflict with a resounding American victory.

Unlike the more eventful scenes in the Struggle series, which depict violent interactions between people, this panel is one in which Lawrence omits figures. It is in these select panels that chaotic masses of bodies, violent interactions, and scenes of death are exchanged by a peaceful encounter between the hands of Victory and Defeat. Defeat, dressed in the British red coat, is situated above the outstretched hand of Victory which extends from a long black cloak. Victory beckons out to Defeat to relinquish its sword amidst a primarily blackened and flat background of piled cannon balls, an exchange that is ultimately respectable and diplomatic.

Although moments of violence often stand out in history, here Lawrence emphasizes the impact of the simple exchange between opposing hands through his simplistic style. While traditional depictions of Yorktown show the American general towering over the British general, here the hands are on an almost equal plane, suggesting that the violence has ended. Yet the subtle gap between Victory and Defeat also suggests a moment of tension as Defeat realizes his vision has come to an end.

Maureen O’Connor

Spotlight on Intersections@5: John F. Simon Jr.

The Phillips celebrates the fifth anniversary of its Intersections contemporary art series with Intersections@5, an exhibition comprising work by 20 of the participating artists. In this blog series, each artist writes about his or her work on view.

Simon_Heat from the Core

John F. Simon Jr., Heat From the Core Raises Mountains and Opens Oceans, 2011. 30 color water-based screenprint on Coventry Rag 335gsm, 30 x 36 in. Edition of 42

My original drawing for this large 30-color silkscreen print was made during a visit to Kailua, a small town on the windward side of the island of Oahu, where my wife was born and raised. The Hawaiian islands were formed by the upwelling of lava from a volcanic hotspot originating in the Earth’s mantle. Inspired by the surrounding geology, I used my imagination to peer deep into the Earth’s core; a metaphor for the way I daily peer down into my own core and allow my drawings to erupt.

Starting in 1999 and continuing to the present, I have created at least one drawing every day as a meditative self-inquiry and artistic practice. When I sit down to draw I have no image in mind and use spontaneous and improvisational movements of my hand to suggest form and content. This image was drawn on January 2, 2010 and then scanned and uploaded to my online archive. The title of the print is the text I wrote to accompany the drawing online.

John F. Simon Jr.

Order and Disorder: Three Artistic Takes on Geometrics


Anni Albers, Fox I, 1972. Photo-offset litho on paper, 24 x 20 in. Gift of Katherine and Nicholas Fox Weber, 1981; © 2008 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Roy Lichtenstein, Imperfect Diptych (Imperfect series), 1988. Woodcut, screen print, and collage on museum board, 57 7/8 in x 97 3/4 in. Gift of Sidney Stolz and David Hatfield, 2009; Frank Keller, Specter Planes VIII, 1980. Oil on wood panel, 41 x 41 in. Gift of Arthur E. Smith, 1980

To me, one of the greatest things about museums is their ability to create interesting juxtapositions that allow viewers to see things they may not have seen otherwise. In a gallery located in the original Phillips house, three striking works are put into conversation with one another: Anni AlbersFox I, Roy Lichtenstein’s Imperfect Diptych, and Frank Keller’s Specter Planes VIII. Each composition employs geometric shapes, notably triangles, to very different effects. They provide three distinct visions, demonstrating how similar subject matter can be presented in more than one way.

Anni Albers’ Fox I (1972) consists of two horizontal, patterned rectangles, separated by a wide gap. On the top, gray triangles facing in various directions are arranged in front of a red background. The bottom is an inversion of this, placing red triangles over a background of gray. The shapes are uniform in size and evenly spaced. The precision and carefully crafted geometry of this work speaks to Albers’ long career as an accomplished textile designer and weaver. The print is planned and systematic, confined within rigid parameters. Yet, there is a freedom from complete uniformity. Facing in different directions, the triangles add a dynamic element and bring vitality to the work.

Measuring 57 7/8 x 97 3/4 inches, Imperfect Diptych (1988) by Roy Lichtenstein occupies an entire gallery wall. Like Albers, Lichtenstein divides the composition into two rectangles. He depicts various geometric shapes, coloring them with matte gray, shiny silver, splashes of red and blue stripes, and of course, red and blue versions of the famous Benday dot pattern. Remember when you were in elementary school and learned how to draw a star without picking your pencil up off of the paper? This print reminds me of that technique in that the shapes seem to all stem from the same line. This composition is not as restricted as the Albers; we can see Lichtenstein starting to experiment with the idea of both preserving the shape’s geometric order, and wanting to break free from it.

Frank Keller’s Specter Planes VIII (1980) depicts various shapes that lack a coherent spatial arrangement. No two shapes are identical, though Keller does repeat some muted colors. Because it is a painting rather than a print, the artist’s hand is much more evident in this work than in the others. He employs strong diagonals to create the illusion of space, creating a depth that the Albers and Lichtenstein lack. Of the three artists, Keller breaks free from order the most. Some shapes overlap, obscuring parts of others, and some float away from the center, travelling out past the confines of the composition.

Fox I, Imperfect Diptych, and Specter Planes VIII’s current installation in the gallery together not only shows various ways to deal with geometry, but provides a rich viewing experience. From the highly ordered composition by Albers, to the work starting to break free from its confines by Lichtenstein, to the freedom of Keller’s canvas, the order and disorder of each piece is emphasized in its comparison to these gallery companions.

Emily Conforto, Marketing & Communications Intern