Norman Wilfred Lewis

American, 1909–1979

Untitled (Vertical Abstraction), 1952

Oil and graphite on linen canvas

49 x 18 inches

Signed lower left

Inspired by a woman who painted in his neighborhood in Harlem, Lewis knew by the age of nine that he wanted to be a painter. In his 20s he met another African American woman who influenced his development as an artist by sharing her studio with him. A self-conscious and primarily self-taught artist, Lewis began to explore abstraction in the 1940s, and in 1950 he was the only black artist to participate in the famous closed-door sessions defining Abstract Expressionism held at Studio 35 and organized by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Despite decades of artistic achievement and favorable exhibition reviews, it is only in recent years that Lewis has begun to receive the attention and recognition achieved by his Abstract Expressionist peers.

Vertical Abstraction is a fascinating early work by Lewis that combines his interest in vertical compositions with a direct, Abstract Expressionist approach. Drawing is integral here—not just an underlying element, but interwoven within the structure of the composition. The work also displays the snowy atmospheric effects of white paint on raw linen.