Jacob Lawrence’s 1960 painting ‘The Library’ depicts a crowded reading room at the 135th Street library in New York’s Harlem neighbourhood. The vivid colour palette of blues and greys and figures presented in double rows capture the hustle and bustle of the library on a busy day. The artwork reflects Lawrence’s interest in people, especially African-Americans, and their connections with each other as well as their relationship with urban spaces. This painting encourages viewers to consider how libraries serve as communal resources for individuals seeking knowledge and education.
As a testament to his love for detail, Jacob Lawrence incorporated several meaningful symbols into ‘The Library.’ He included an African mask on the wall, which is suggestive of African culture within an American context. Additionally, he included a globe in the bottom corner which can be seen as symbolic reminder that these patrons are still connected to a larger world despite the limitations of their urban location.
Another artwork worth mentioning is Self-Portrait Of A Degenerate Artist by Oskar Kokoschka from 1937. This striking oil on canvas work provides insight into Kokoschka’s inner turmoil through his self-portraiture and expressionist style which features blurred shapes and bold brushstrokes. Kokoschka’s artwork captures the psychological isolation he felt following World War II, showing how art can be used for therapeutic purposes. By contrast, Lawrence’s painting celebrates cultural connections between African Americans living within an urban environment. Both works powerfully address pressing societal issues such as racism, prejudice and displacement whilst also emphasizing the relevance of art in times of adversity.