Discover inspiration in the unexpected…
I wandered through the doors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA for short) intending to head straight to the show that had caught my eye, Brown & Brown — the pairing of two alumni, a painter and photographer, whose work seemed to communicate with one another despite coming from very different perspectives. But something else caught my eye. Spying something bright and bold shimmering from the main gallery, I thought I might as well check it out before moving on to my intended destination. I didn’t expect to spend my entire afternoon transfixed, reading every placard and taking in every piece. Art can surprise you that way…just when you’re comfortable heading in one direction, you’re railroaded by something else entirely.
The show is Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis, and features over 100 of the artist’s works spanning from the mid 30s through the late 70s. Though I was unfamiliar with Lewis’ work prior to this past Tuesday, I was quickly transfixed by the breadth and scope of his work. Needlepoint, beading, abstract expressionism, realism, quilting, printmaking, all interwoven with social activism and community… Lewis expertly storms through nearly every style of art imaginable all while maintaining his expressive, unique voice, which ranges from happiness to rage, celebration to sorrow. A key figure in both the Abstract Expressionism and Harlem art communities, Lewis used mark-making, color, shadow and light to interweave activism and social issues with vibrant hues, drawing you in while whispering coded messages in your ear. Wandering through the labyrinth of rooms and galleries, a veritable Procession of paintings, drawings, and sculpture dancing before your eyes, it’s hard to believe all of this work is from one artist. But it is. A lifetime of work, in art and community, the stunning trajectory of one artist’s creativity.
Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis, on view through April 13th at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Museum