Heat

Media - 2010.52 - SAAM-2010.52_1 - 74044
Jacob Lawrence, Bar and Grill, 1941, gouache on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design, 2010.52
August 21, 2012

These warm August afternoons often make me step inside of American Art not just to cool off, but to have an ah-ha moment with something that strikes me inside the museum: person or painting. Maybe it was the heat but the image that grabbed me today, Bar and Grill by Jacob Lawrence, was about quenching one's thirst while struggling with a deeper need: freedom. It's part of the exhibition, African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, on view on the main floor of the museum through September 3.

Painted in 1941 when the artist left New York City for New Orleans, the image presents a split screen of life in the Jim Crow south. On the left, white customers are enjoying themselves. The bartender hangs with them. It even looks like they get a little food. On the right, a couple dances at the rear of the bar, while another—couple, distraught— converse (or not) at the bar. What separates the two scenes is the ceiling fan only provided for the group on the left. Its black blades could cut through the air but not through the oppressive and cruel everyday realities of life under Jim Crow.

View more works by Jacob Lawrence.

Recent Posts

Two visitors look at a timeline on a wall. Behind them is a painting hanging on a blue wall and the words "Fighters for Freedom" with text underneath.
SAAM's educators invite students and visitors to reflect on William H. Johnson's portraits and make connections to our world today.
Emily Berg
A photograph of Phoebe Hillemann
Phoebe Hillemann
Teacher Institutes Educator
Detail of fiber art with a silhouette of woman. Her arms and one leg are raised as if mid-jump.
Women Artists06/13/2024
Artists and visitors mingled at the Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art Open House
A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist
Illustration showing a person with short, brown hair. They are holding a camera up to their face.
Laura Aguilar challenged accepted standards of beauty and represented the LGBTQ+ community, becoming one of the most influential Chicana photographers of her generation.