It’s a timely coincidence that the city that recently elected its first female African-American mayor is now host to a tribute to another monumental first in African-American history. From June 15 through Sept. 8, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art will present “Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence.” The exhibition consists of nearly 200 pieces by Lawrence, the first 20th-century African-American artist to achieve national recognition and to land on the radar of the New York art scene. A modernist, Lawrence died in 2000 at the age of 82.

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Lawrence’s dedication to the plight of the African-American community generated an endless source of subject matter. He used bold color, plain-as-day images and elementary shapes to express racial tension and oppression.

“Praying Ministers,” for example, summarizes the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, as black and white ministers and rabbis bow their heads amid student protests.

Lawrence, who considered himself a “community artist,” also used masks as a metaphor for African-Americans’ invisibility in society. Much of the artist’s work, however, extends beyond racial issues to encompass general problems afflicting humanity, including labor and familial issues.

The exhibit is organized by The Phillips Collection in Washington, 1280 Peachtree Street. (404) 733-4437,

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