|Norman Lewis, circa 1966 by photographer Geoffrey Clements|
Art In The Atrium is happy to announce that we have selected Norman Lewis as our featured artist for the 2012 20th Anniversary exhibit. This exhibit marks a major milestone in ATA history as New Jersey's premier annual African-American Fine Arts Show showcasing the work of both established and emerging artists, with a mission to increase community understanding and awareness of African-American art and artists.
Lewis work is essential to that mission, because it highlights the diversity within the African-American art to often overlooked. Work that is less literal in translation of culture subject and theme. Lewis' work evolved out of the Abstract Expressionism school of thought in New York in the mid 1940's. The Abstract Expressionist movement itself derived it's name from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism.
Norman Lewis, was born in 1909 in New York. He began his art career as figurative painter, focusing on life in Harlem, and was the first major African American abstract expressionist. Lewis, like fellow artist, Jacob Lawrence attended the art workshops in Harlem. At the art centers Lewis studied African art and was introduced to Howard University professor, Alain Locke's ideas about art, which Locke believed, should derive from African themes and aesthetics. However Lewis saw limitations in the New Negro ideals and questioned its effectiveness in expressing his own identity and interests of the African American community.
In 1946 he announced that he wanted to create art that broke away from what he called "its stagnation in too much tradition." Inspired by the writings and art of the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), one of the first artists to create abstract paintings, he abandoned representation in favor of the "conceptual expression" of ideas. Like other Abstract Expressionists working in New York, Lewis was deeply interested in music, and especially jazz, which influenced the painting of Phantasy II (shown in the article above). In an automatic process he made a linear composition with boldly colored lines and forms akin to the improvisational structure of jazz.
Lewis moved from abstract figuration to modernism, as exemplified by artists Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso. From that point forward his works are devoid of realistic imagery and focused more on conceptual expression, still often referring to African American settings and culture.
Lewis, always active in the art community, in the 1960s was a founding member of the Spiral Group, a group of African American artists who sought to contribute through their art to the civil rights movement.
Composite of copy borrowed from PBS and Museum of Modern Art