Visually layered, in the present work, form is subsumed by color, which in turn is bound in by formal restraints. Lawrence complicates his gruesome scene through the use of abstract pictorial strategies, using fractured geometry and graphic, angular boundaries to compress and distort space. The two human subjects of the painting are perpetrating the intense violence in the artist’s composition, yet are bound in by this geometry, constrained by washes of color and the same cage-like compositional structures which ensconce the animals behind them. Lawrence began each painting with a detailed under drawing, and that hidden structure is evident in the angular lines and the ornate visual layering in the present work.
The artist is best known for his sweeping depictions of black experience, most notably the Great Migration series, now shared between the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In that series, the artist depicted the movement of African-Americans from the rural South to the Industrialized North after Reconstruction, recording an under acknowledged collective history for posterity. The present work exemplifies that poignant thread, embodied by the Great Migration series, and which permeates the artist’s entire oeuvre. More than just a depiction of a specific moment or distinct set of characters, the present work “[functions] for both the artist and the viewer on nonverbal levels of understanding, via their communication of emotions, moods, and dreams, rather than of specific ideas, accounts or truths” (Richard J. Powell, “Harmonizer of Chaos: Jacob Lawrence at Mid-Century” in Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle 2000, p. 152).
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