Artists Organize Conversation in Celebration of Norman Lewis

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA), Philadelphia, PA

Norman Lewis, c. 1950 Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New YorkA group of noted artists, coordinated by Lewis contemporary Richard Mayhew, gathered at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) on March 12, 2016 in celebration of the life and career of their friend and colleague, Norman Lewis.

Participants included artists Richard Mayhew, Richard Hunt, William T. Williams, Bette Blayton Taylor, Floyd Coleman, Mel Edwards. Their deep appreciation for Lewis' work and friendship are evident in their desire to come to Philadelphia for this commemoration. The informal conversation included personal anecdotes, professional reflections and artistic responses to PAFA's landmark exhibition, Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis on view through April 3, 2016. 

The roundtable was moderated by Ruth Fine, curator of the current PAFA exhibition, who also collaborated with guest editors on the Winter 2016 International Review of African American Art special issue, Norman Lewis (1909-1979) Art and Legacy (vol. 26, no. 1). Fine is a former curator at The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Born in Harlem in 1909 to parents from Bermuda, Norman Lewis lived and worked in New York most of his life. He focused on figurative and figurative abstract work withUntitled (Seachange), 1976, oil on Strathmore paper, 21 7/8 x 29 7/8” Collection of Valentino D. Carlotti © Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY social and jazz themes in the 1930s and early 1940s and transitions to more non-objective work in the late 1940s. In the late 1950s and early '60s he restricted his palette to the color black for a series of paintings. In 1963 he was a founding member of Spiral, a New York based group of African American artists (primarily painters) started in 1963. Spiral focused on protesting social injustice and how race factored into the mainstream art world's interpretations of the work of black artists.

For more on Lewis and his time see Ruth Fine’s excellent exhibition catalogue, Procession The Art of Norman Lewis, University of California Press, 2015 and here.

Additional information on the Lewis conversation and remaining exhibition programming is available here and here.