Norman Lewis

The Studio Museum in Harlem

The poignant yet somewhat quaint announced purpose of “Norman Lewis: Black Paintings, 1946–77” is to explore the artist’s “aesthetic and metaphoric uses of black.” Of the two, “aesthetic” goes down more easily, since Lewis was more or less an Abstract Expressionist and, as with his stylistic brethren, whatever he put down on canvas was there first and foremost for aesthetic reasons—primarily those having to do with how best to make a painting in the middle years of the twentieth century. But of course it’s the “metaphorical” usage that gives the exhibition title its raison d’être, and this is where the poignancy and quaintness come in.

Lewis, you see, was an African-American artist, the only one included in those theoretical gabfests at Studio 35 called the Artists’ Sessions. Born in New York of Bermudan immigrants, he worked in his youth in the tailoring trades and also shipped out to

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