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a877: SunTimes: Painting the hues of history (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Painting the hues of history

February 17, 2002

BY LISA LENOIR staff reporter

Artist Jacob Lawrence interpreted the African-American
experience in striking narrative paintings that have
become the prized possessions of museums and private
collections. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and
John Brown as well as the Great Migration continue to
be among his most notable works.

But before he created these more popular works, he
told the story of a little known historical figure,
Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave who helped lead
the Haitian revolt of 1791-1804 and found the Republic
of Haiti.

Housed in Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh
Block Museum of Art, ''The Life of Toussaint
L'Ouverture'' chronicles a series of 15 events,
starting with the protagonist's birth and ending with
his victory over the French.

''This sets the stage for a lot of his works,'' says
Jane Friedman, the museum's educational coordinator.
''This introduced his narrative style.''

Lawrence, who died in 2000, first produced the series
of paintings between 1937 and 1938, drawing on the
sources from Charles Beard's biography of Toussaint
and W.E.B. DuBois' play based on Toussaint's life. He
created 41 paintings, using distinctive flat vivid
colors, dynamic composition and spatial distortion.

Then from 1986 to 1997, he revisited the works,
producing 15 screen prints in which he made
significant alterations from his original works. He
doubled the size from the original panels and
brightened the palette for dramatic impact.

Comparing two works, ''Contemplation'' and ''Toussaint
at Enery,'' illustrates this difference.

In the painting of ''Contemplation,'' Lawrence shows a
back view of Toussaint leaning over a table in a white
shirt. In the print, the figure wears a red vest. This
red tone translates into the fire-like blades of grass
shown in ''Toussaint at Enery.'' When mixed with
bright yellow and blue, the drama of the conquest
comes through.

In all of his works, Lawrence tried to follow the
urging of Alain Locke, the primary theorist of the
Harlem Renaissance. Locke encouraged black artists to
pull from African sources and create works that
embodied resistance.

''The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture'' serves as a
testament to the value of such an approach. Layering
African history with art enables viewers to walk away
not only culturally enriched but intellectually

View the prints through March 31 at the Mary and Leigh
Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1967 S.
Campus Dr., Evanston. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8
p.m. Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed
Mondays. Admission is free.

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