Jacob Lawrence’s “Tombstones” is a captivating painting that depicts the harsh reality of the African American community in Harlem during the 1940s. This painting belongs to the Social Realists Movement period of art history, which aimed to reveal social issues and highlight the struggles of ordinary people. Lawrence’s distinct style, which he called “dynamic cubism,” combined Social Realism and modern abstraction with bold colors to create a powerful statement about society.
The subject matter of “Tombstones” draws from Lawrence’s personal experience living in Harlem, observing the lives and aspirations of African Americans. In this painting, he depicted barren tombstones sprouting from an empty landscape, symbolizing how Black people were buried by their lack of opportunities due to racial segregation, poverty, and discrimination. The stark contrast between black, brown tones and vivid colors in Lawrence’s work was his signature style making his paintings stand out on their own.
Lawrence was an educator who believed that art should be accessible to everyone regardless of their background or socio-economic status. His works did not focus solely on history but also what he personally witnessed in his local community like its pain points for instance. Although “Tombstones” is one painting among many others showcasing similar themes it is considered as one important piece from an exhibition that includes seventy paintings and sculptures covering various periods wherein Modern realism encompassed social-political to psychological concepts such as surrealism or satire which conveyed through forms has become timeless until this day.