Artist Jacob Armstead Lawrence
Game of Checkers
Jacob Lawrence lived from 1917 – 2000,
near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
of Jacob Lawrence
Checker Players Art 1947
Street shadows Game of Checkers
Jacob Lawrence left an amazing artistic and historical legacy
through his visual imagery.
- A celebrated mod Naïve urban genre figure painter,
storyteller and interpreter of the African American experience;
illustrator, printmaker and graphic artist; mural painter and sculptor.
- Artist Jacob Lawrence developed an abstract, early 20th century
using a variety of media such as crayon,
fresco, gouache, pencil, ink, tempera,
watercolor and oil.
- Jacob’s renown was for his narrative series of
tempera paintings that were expressive of his own life and
that of his black peers who migrated from the South to the North.
- The artist’s vivid canvases were
covered in areas of color that gave the
appearance of a large collage to create
the scene depicting African American figures
within genre and urban settings or cityscapes;
Jacob Lawrence also created artistic
expression with subjects such as animals,
portraits, religion and mysticism.
- Lawrence’s art often depicted a social realism in his
commentary on the African American experience throughout the history
of the race in the U.S.
- After their parents separated, Jacob
Lawrence and his two younger siblings lived
in settlement houses and foster homes in
Philadelphia until their mother could support
them in New York.
- By the age of thirteen Lawrence had
discovered art as a means of personal expression
and many of his themes came from observing
the activity and rhythms of the streets
of Harlem and later, through formal and
informal art education, he became immersed
in the cultural activity and fervor of
the artists and writers who led the Harlem
- Jacob Lawrence received a scholarship
to the American Artists School and began
to gain some notice for his dramatic and
lively portrayals of both contemporary
scenes of African American urban life as
well as historical events.
- Jacob’s artwork displayed a wide ranging style, but
favored a narrative Synthetic Cubism.
- His themes were depicted in crisp shapes, bright, clear colors
and dynamic patterns as well as through revealing postures and gestures.
- Artist Jacob Lawrence used bold planes
of vivid color and symbolic elements of
African American heritage of struggles,
aspirations and accomplishments.
- Game of checkers artist Jacob Lawrence's
simple, stylized depiction of day to day
life can be seen in his tempera painting, ‘The
Checker Players’, where he
represented with clarity two players engrossed
in a game of checkers while
others look on; his images found expression
in the flattened and abstracted treatment
of the checkers players and the checkerboard
Shadows’ also represented
another urban cityscape showing the leisurely
afternoon activities in the neighborhood,
including a game of checkers on the sidewalk
with onlookers taking in the play at
the checkerboard behind the players and
from windows above them.
- Though both checkers scenes were abstracted
and two dimensional, the mood and busyness
of the time remained clear and easy
- Artist Lawrence was partial to using
a series format to convey his themes in
the form of a narrative and his fascination
with movies during the Depression inspired
his technique in storytelling, especially
during the late 1930’s and early
- To create consistency in the images so
that the story would be clear, he devised
a method of using story boards to develop
the sequence of ideas employing every aspect,
edge and angle for its physical, social,
historical and economic significance; his
system was to lay out the panels on the
floor of his studio, designing rhythms
of vertical and horizontal hardboard panels,
each the same size so he could see all
the panels of a series together and paint
the different images at the same time,
thus creating unity in the theme and storyline.
Style of Jacob Lawrence
- Jacob Lawrence first wrote captions and completed sketches
for each scene; then he drew directly onto gessoed hardboard
panels and systematically applied one color at a time to each
panel, beginning with black and moving on to lighter tones.
- Often his colors were unmixed so that they would not vary
from one panel to the next and then added white to make
lighter shades of different colors.
- Artist Jacob Lawrence's selection
of colors black and burnt umber to cadmium
orange and yellow created an overall
unity and consistency.
- Artist Lawrence repeated motifs, shapes
and words throughout his narrative series
and in the Migration Series, the repetition
of an enlarged single spike or nail,
chain links or lattice, hands and the
hammer act as refrains in the lives,
experiences and struggles of African