Jacob Lawrence 
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Letter from Home (Letter from Europe), 1947

Coming of age at the height of the Harlem Renaissance,Jacob Lawrence is best known for his modernist images of the African-American experience in historical and personal terms. The first African American to be represented by a major art dealer, Lawrence was an unapologetic voice of Harlem, with a hard-earned membership in Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery coterie of artists. It rarely goes unsaid that Lawrence embodied a paradox in his dual nature as a “modern” and a “primitive.” Ever since Picasso gave his figures the faces of African masks in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, modernism had been fascinated with “primitive” aesthetics. This paradox can be seen as Lawrence fused the flattened, abstracted forms of the modernist sensibility with a personal identity. It was all well and good for Picasso to exotify his prostitutes with African masks, but Lawrence would speak for his own heritage and experience, rather than being spoken for. While other social realist artists repudiated their early enthusiasm for modernism, Lawrence found these raw, frontal forms to be the perfect vehicle for his narrative, a story every bit as fresh and vital, and previously untold.