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Olympic Games Munich 1972 (Olympische Spiele München 1972)
Olympic Games Munich 1972 (Olympische Spiele München 1972), 1971-72
Jacob Lawrence, American
Color screenprint (poster)
Image: 34 3/8 x 25 3/16 inches (87.3 x 64 cm) Sheet: 40 x 25 3/16 inches (101.6 x 64 cm)
Gift of Marla K. Shoemaker, 2002
2002-60-1
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Olympic Games Munich 1972 (Olympische Spiele Munchen 1972) by Jacob Lawrence

About This Art

Five runners with grimacing faces take giant strides around a large, curving track as they head toward the finish line. They hold batons (small sticks) in their hands because they are competing in a relay race. Each athlete is shown with his arms, legs, and head in a slightly different position—one has his head back and his right leg stretched forward, almost straight. Who do you think will wing? Why?

The words Olympische Spiele München translate to “Olympic Games Munich,” and tell us that this screenprint poster was created for the 1972 Olympic Summer Games, held in Munich, Germany. The Olympics symbol, five interlocking rings, is also visible on the poster. Notice how Lawrence used bold colors to depict the runners’ stylized faces and legs as well as the repeated shapes of the track.

Here, Lawrence combined the flat, simplified shapes and empty spaces of modernism with silhouetted figures—similar to those found in ancient Greek vase painting—and the rhythmic patterns and colors of Harlem street scenes. He labeled his pictorial style “dynamic cubism.” Olympic Games Munich 1972 evokes several stories: the high drama of a relay race; African American athlete Jesse Owens’s success at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, in the face of Nazi claims of racial superiority (Owens won four gold medals, including one as part of the 400-meter relay team); the strength and the determination of African Americans to compete on the world stage after centuries of discrimination at home.

About This Artist

Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917 as his family traveled north, part of the Great Migration of people from the South. After his parents split up, his mother moved the family to Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City where a movement known as the Harlem Renaissance was flourishing. Lawrence studied painting at the Harlem Art Workshop and received great encouragement from African American artists Augusta Savage and Charles Alston and art critic Alain Locke.

Jacob Lawrence achieved national recognition at the age of twenty-three with The Migration of the Negro, an exhibition of sixty paintings about the Great Migration. This series was so admired that both the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., wanted to buy them. Eventually, it was divided between the two museums.

During World War II, Lawrence was drafted into the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served on the first integrated ship and was promoted to a rank higher than steward’s mate (the automatic rank of African Americans in that era). After the war, his career included commissions for murals and a Time magazine cover; teaching positions at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the University of Washington in Seattle; and many awards.

Lawrence used a process called screenprinting to make this poster. To create a screenprint image, paper or film stencils (or a combination of tusche and glue) are used to block the passage of ink or dye through a finely woven fabric screen (made by stretching silk around a frame) onto the printing surface (paper or fabric). Silkscreen printing is also used for commercial work such as signs, posters, and printed fabrics.
 

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