Born in Harlem, painter Norman Lewis was influenced by the everyday lives of his neighbors. In the 1930s he began depicting Black Americans struggling under the weight of systemic racism. Lewis later became affiliated with Abstract Expressionism, which he saw as a way to be present in the civil rights movement.
In 1963, Lewis co-founded the artist group Spiral, whose members held numerous discussions concerning the position of Black artists in United States society. In 1969, alongside artists Romare Bearden and Ernest Crichlow, Lewis also co-founded Cinque Gallery, a New York City space committed to supporting Black artists through exhibitions and public programs.