A Sense of Place- Norman Lewis in Harlem: “An Inquiry into the Laws of Nature”

29 Sep 2023

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Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. In this podcast recorded on January 15, 2006, Ruth Fine discusses the Harlem-based life and career of Norman Lewis in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday weekend. Lewis was born in Harlem in 1909 and died in New York at the age of 70. Except for short periods spent elsewhere, New York and, in one way or another, the Harlem community remained Lewis’ home base throughout his life. Harlem changed radically during the artist’s lifetime, becoming the cultural center of black America. He is considered by many to be the first African American artist fully engaged by abstraction. Lewis’ drawings, paintings, and prints date from the 1930s to 1970. Supporting himself as an elevator operator, house painter, short-order chef, merchant marine, tailor, and taxi driver, Lewis worked steadily at his art. "I have sustained myself in whatever the moment called for and done what has been necessary to just exist." Lewis’ art and attitudes were highly influential on the next generation of African American artists, including Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, and William T. Williams


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