Norman Lewis


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American painter of Caribbean descent, born in Harlem, New York. He began painting at Augusta Savage's studio and studied at Columbia University and the John Reed Club Art School, a Communist Party organization. He painted murals for the Works Progress Administration (see Federal Arts Project) but he generally worked on easel paintings. Lewis dismissed the demand that his work reflect “Africanness’. However, in Untitled (1944), a self-portrait as a gambler, the face of the artist does bear the striations characteristic of masks from Zaire. It is likely that he was actually making fun of the cult of ‘ancestralism’ as well as the *‘primitivism’ of the avant-garde. Although Lewis considered himself a Marxist, he rejected the Communist Party's demand for Socialist Realism on the grounds that it was based on ‘no universal consideration’. Instead, he attempted in his painting a kind of synthesis between Western and non-Western traditions. In practice this entailed a kind of painting close to Abstract Expressionism in a calligraphic manner reminiscent of Tobey.

Further Reading

D. Craven, Myth Making: Abstract Expressionist Painting from the United States (1993)A. E. Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (1997)

Subjects: Art.

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