Jacob Lawrence

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, Opus 1702, Winds of Time, acrylic on paper

Q: Didn’t you also study with Jacob Lawrence? How was Lawrence as a teacher? He seems to come from a very different world than the Northwest School and Tsutakawa.

ReeL: Yes, but he also was seeking to break out of the European art traditions.

Q: So you found continuity in a sort of form of rebellion?

ReeL: It was more a tendency to gravitate to the more philosophical instructors at Washington, and those that had a more technical training and depth to their approach.

Q: I wouldn’t have thought Lawrence fit into that category. I mean in terms of technical training. Wasn’t he self-taught as a painter?

ReeL: Lawrence was a truly educated man, self-taught or not. You know, when Gropius first formed his new school at Black Mountain after he’d been run out of the German Bauhaus by the Nazis, Jacob Lawrence was the only American on his first faculty. He said that Lawrence was the only American he felt who could teach at the level of the Bauhaus faculty at that time.

Q; I didn’t know that. Gropius was considered to have had very tough standards.

ReeL: Exactly.  I mention it more to emphasize how gifted  Lawrence was  as a teacher, a charismatic, natural teacher. I actually never took a formal class from him, but I was considered in his “group” so to speak.  He let us attend his critiques., come over to his place for these fabulous salons. There was a tremendously seductive confidentiality to  his manner, as if he were letting you in on age-old secrets handed down through the world’s cultures. We read Langston Hughes, history, read  poetry out loud.

Q: If you had to characterize Lawrence by a single event, quality, or characteristic what would it be?

ReeL: I hate questions like that.  Lawrence never tried to produce painters that painted like him.  In fact, as far as I could tell, he actively discouraged it, which was fine by me since we had very different orientations technically.  I was drawn to him  because his approach was more  philosophical, plus we shared a strong interest in history.  Besides,  he was an exceedingly likable human being.


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