Norman Lewis (1909-1979)

American, of Bermudian descent (1909-1979)

Oil with sgraffito on Masonite


Private Collection

Norman Lewis was active in the New York School in the late
1940s/50s and was represented by the Willard Gallery, NYC,
a leading space for the promotion of Abstract Expressionism,
during this time. Lewis held his first solo show at the Gallery in
1949 and went on to show a total of nine solo exhibitions with
them over ten years.
This work is an example of Norman Lewis’ “black paintings” –
a series of works he produced from the mid-1940s onwards in
which he used black pigment as a central focus, rather than in
its traditional usage as an accent colour or tone. Several artists,
including Lewis’ close friend and fellow Abstract Expressionist
Ad Reinhardt, were experimenting with black paintings at the
time. However, as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston notes, “For
Lewis in particular, this reconceptualizing of black as a dynamic
pigment instead of the binary ‘opposite’ of white may also serve
as a metaphor for the African American struggle for equality.”
The year after making this work, Lewis was included in the
MoMA show Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America.
In 1955 he became the first African American artist to receive
the Carnegie Prize and shortly afterwards he was invited by
the Art Institute of Chicago to represent the USA in the 1956
Venice Biennale.
In 1963 Norman Lewis became a founding member of Spiral, a
group of Black artists committed to art and activism. Later in
life he taught at the Art Student League of New York and in the
last decade of his life was awarded both the Mark Rothko
Fellowship and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

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