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

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 2

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.

Struggle_Panel 2

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 2: Massacre in Boston, 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

On March 5, 1770, an argument broke out between a colonist and two British guards outside of the Custom House in Boston. It escalated to a riot between Bostonians and the British guards, resulting in the deaths of five colonists. This incident was almost immediately immortalized in Paul Revere’s famous engraving The Bloody Massacre, which aimed to cement the brewing anti-British sentiment among the colonists with its inclusions of controversial and falsified details. In stark contrast to Revere’s propagandist agenda, Jacob Lawrence’s interpretation Massacre in Boston focuses on the struggles of the American colonists by portraying them rallying around their wounded compatriot. There was not a single British soldier in the painting.

Fast forward to 1955 when Lawrence worked on this panel, the year that African Americans rallied around the death of Emmett Till, a young African American boy murdered by two white men in Mississippi. The culprits were not convicted of homicide. Through the media attention the case garnered, it was transformed into the symbol of the disparities of justice and rights for African Americans. In both of these episodes in American history, the power of the people is emphasized. This aspect is conveyed in Lawrence’s work with his focus on groups of figures coming together, fighting for a common cause.

Phuong Nguyen

Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: All’s Well That Ends Well

alls_well_ends_well_trilogy

(left) Mathematical Object: Algebraic Surface of Degree 4, c. 1900. Wood, 3 1/8 x 2 3/8 in. Made by Joseph Caron. The Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris, France. Photo: Elie Posner (middle) Man Ray, Mathematical Object, 1934-35. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, All’s Well that Ends Well, 1948. Oil on canvas, 16 x 19 7/8 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Defying easy categorization as comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well—with its curious mixture of fairytale logic, gender role reversals, and cynical realism—and Man Ray’s corresponding painting provide a fitting finale to this journey from mathematics to Shakespeare. Removing the wood and metal supports of the mathematical models (seen in the left and middle images above) and placing the untethered forms against an undulating white cloth, Man Ray created a composition in which the objects occupy an ambiguous space between the real and the surreal. These small models find their apotheosis almost a decade later in a 1956 pen-and ink drawing, attesting to the fact that the models he encountered in 1930s Paris continued to haunt and inspire him for years to come. They have gone from three-dimensional objects, once of great utility to mathematicians, into abstract, ethereal forms.

Wendy Grossman, Exhibition Curator