V

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Norman Lewis

Good Morning, 1960

Oil on canvas

42" x 50"


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Good Morning

Norman Lewis was the first major African American Abstract Expressionist. Like many other Abstract Expressionists of the era, Lewis began his career during the 1930s as a Social Realist. He worked as a WPA artist under Augusta Savage and was well situated within the artistic milieu of Harlem, New York. After World War II, Lewis's interest shifted away from abstract figuration toward European modernism, popularized by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, and Arshile Gorky. According to art historian Ann Gibson, "Lewis's wartime experiences...prompted him to question whether picturing 'the Negro' was the most effective means either of expressing his own identity or of furthering the interests of the Black community."

During the late 1940s and through the 1950s, Lewis believed that he had found in New York's Abstract Expressionist movement a style that could adequately express his own particular artistic identity. In a fashion similar to that of other New York Abstract Expressionists with whom Lewis closely associated at Artists Sessions at Studio 35 (organized by Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and other New York avant-garde artists to discuss art and theories of Abstract Expressionism), Lewis's work, as evidenced in the 1960 painting Good Morning, evolved into an aesthetic of pure abstraction.

Although the title and the yellow, blue, and hazy gray hues of Good Morning suggest a particular moment, such as an early morning sunrise, the absence of identifiable forms in Lewis's painting leaves its intent inconclusive.  T. F.

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