Five people are seated at a table: four men and a woman. From their appearance, particularly the woman's makeup and matching necklace and earrings, they are out on the town. A waitress is serving drinks in tall tumblers with inserted straws. Lawrence uses gouache, an opaque watercolor, to apply bright colors to simplified forms that suggest folk art. Notice how the black shapes, silhouetted against the yellow table, help flatten the space and unify the design. This particular use of color and form also gives us the sense of looking down at the table and its diners. Lawrence then enlivens his scene with accents of red, yellow, and brown.
Lawrence seems to make caricatures of his figures for comic delight—with funny poses and expressions. One man, dressed as a reverend, piously clasps his hands and stares wide-eyed at a roasted turkey or chicken. The man to his left in green leans down on the table with cigarette in hand. A third man on our side of the table looks to his right with a puzzled expression on his face. The silliest reaction belongs to the woman who, with her open mouth accentuated with red lipstick, looks surprised at her neighbor's unseemly fatigue. Although the artist depicts African Americans "dining out" during the Great Depression, he affectionately satirizes the awkwardness of socializing that all Americans understand. Lawrence makes us smile.
Jacob Lawrence, Dining Out, 1937, gouache, 11 1/2 x 9 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of the Estate of Janet Ela. 1997.46 © 2005 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Jacob Lawrence. Photograph by Spike Mafford.