Norman Lewis, an Abstract Expressionist painter and teacher, was born in 1909 in Harlem to Caribbean immigrant parents.
Lewis studied with sculptor Augusta Savage from 1933 to 1935, at which time he also took art courses at Columbia University.
Those years brought about fruitful encounters with many artists and writers. Lewis joined the 306 group, a salon of artists and writers who met in Harlem and aimed to promote and support the careers of emerging African American artists.
In 1935, with members of the 306 group, he became a founding member of the Harlem Artists Guild.
Lewis moved away from creating social realism works in the early 1940s because he found the style was not effective to counter racism.
Abstraction proved an important means to both artistic freedom and personal discovery, a strategy to distance himself from racial artistic language, as well as the stereotypes of his time.
Lewis said he struggled to express social conflict in his art, but in his later years, focused on the inherently aesthetic. “The goal of the artist must be aesthetic development,” he told art historian Kellie Jones, “and in a universal sense, to make in his own way some contribution to culture.”
In his last 20 years, Lewis created and developed his very own unique blending of abstraction and figuration. His rhythmic lines and shapes now hinted at figures moving through his layers of colors.