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  New Themes
The theme of social protest remained a consistent focus for Jacob Lawrence throughout his career. In the 1960s Lawrence was inspired by news reports and photographs, including images of segregated lunch counter sit-ins and stories of the  Freedom Riders in the civil rights movement. From the 1970s onward, Lawrence's work focused less explicitly on contemporary social issues.
I like the symbolism [of the builder]...I think of it as man's aspiration, as a constructive tool—man building.
Jacob Lawrence1
From 1946 to 1998, Lawrence made paintings based on the theme of builders. These works present a limited palette of primary colors, black, and white; and human activity is juxtaposed against architectural elements, building tools, and materials. They communicate Lawrence’s ideas about American worker culture, pointedly include female workers, and expand the idea of the builder to include the family. These works also  symbolically reflect increased African-American participation in the building trades during the 1940s and late 1960s.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lawrence spent much of his time painting commissions. As he continued to experiment with composition and space, abstraction and representation, Lawrence bridged the gap between form and content to create a distinctly modern  pictorial language.

1. Lowery Stokes Sims, "The Structure of Narrative, Form and Content in Jacob Lawrence’s Builders Paintings, 1946-1998," in Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle Dubois, eds., Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), p. 209.

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art