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Aaron Douglas’ “Into Bondage” Artwork Analysis

The first impression from the artwork Into Bondage by Aaron Douglas was positive because of the feeling of warmth from the sunshine and hope coming from a man looking up to the sky. Belief, light, future are the first words appearing in mind after looking at the picture. Some seconds later, bound hands of characters become more noticeable, and the wish of freedom, independence, and stronger hope appears for them. Far away, the viewer feels pain, moderate but chronic, somewhere in the background of the soul.

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Looking more attentively at the picture, one can notice the column of people coming to the shore with their heads bent. The red marks on their silhouettes are hand bondages connected with chains. The column walks to the water, far away the ship is sailing to the shore. Two figures distinguish from the column: a woman drawn front with her raised hands reminding the viewer of praying ritual. Another figure is of a man looking up to the sky at the red star that produces a beam of yellow light directing via the front man’s head. Under the man in the front, there is a stain of red color. The borders of the painting are formed with plants and palms drawn with orange, yellow, burgundy, and many shades of green. The plants frame a circle around all the mentioned above characters and items. The picture also has circles of yellowish light coming from the sea nearby the ship.

The beam of light coming from the star drawn with straight diagonal lines becomes the brightest item of the artwork. Geometric partly flat forms of the painting make an impression of abstraction. The colors are clear, that is why the shade of the light beam is light-yellow, but it makes an impression of being very bright. The red color is the second attractive feature that intersects with the primary feelings of hope, belief, and light. However, Aaron Douglas hid with mastery an item of red color under the front man’s feet. This red stain reminds of a leaf located close to the other plants on the periphery of the picture. The value of the painting remains mostly light which is done with the help of concentric circles and the beam together taking a substantial amount of space of the picture.

The elements conflict with each other: the geometrical straight line of the light beam and the concentric circles, the green middle part of the painting, and the red color of bands on the hands of characters. The colors used in the artwork are mostly pure and basic: green, yellow, orange, and their shades. The effect of contrast is reached by using complementary green and red colors that attract the vision of a viewer even more. The lightning is directly coming from the front straight to the one looking at the painting. The illusion of depth is achieved through the color shade and the frame location of plants. The latter makes an impression that a viewer is a guest that hides in the bushes observing the story silently.

The picture primarily attracts with its brightness and light. The effect of contrast is reached via using complementary green and red colors that appeal to the vision of a viewer even more. Lines intersect with each other distracting the vision and making a feeling of internal conflict, suspicion, and doubt. The smooth and flat texture of the painting leads to the thought of looking at an illustration that is far from reality. The balance of the painting is mostly asymmetrical with palms, the beam of light from the right, praying woman, concentric circles, and a ship located from the left. The movement of the story is active as the waves drawn with various colors make a vision of a slight storm. The work has both unity and variety as the story makes sense to the viewer but distracts the attention with various contrast colors and lines.

Aaron Douglas chose oil and canvas for the materials of his artwork with the help of which he easily achieved crisp effects and fusion of tones (Wingate 2). Possibly, Aaron Douglas worked particularly hard with creating diagonal geometric lines and concentric circles that make the effect of intersection and balance at the same time. There is a connection between the effects used by the painter and the message he wanted to send. Contrast colors interpret hope and belief for a better future and the actual consequent slavery and dependence.

This artwork represents the soon enslaved African people by the invaders, their hope for freedom and better life. Woman with raised hands illustrates belief and search for help. Nevertheless, the actions of the British colonists resettling African people were cruel and unfair (Slavery in America 3). The stain of blood under the front man’s feet symbolizes ended the deaths of African slaves. The red bandages on arms stay central on the canvas as the symbol of long-lasting slavery. Douglas created “Into the Bondage” to remind about harsh events in American history, narrate a story about his ancestors, and lead a viewer through the possible feelings these enslaved people felt.

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Ron Douglas is a famous artist of the Harlem Renaissance called by many “father of African American art” (Anderson 14). The picture reminds of the brightness of hope and belief among African American people, their strength and patience, their pain, and their sorrow. It is hard to look at the painting after the analysis as the positive feelings of hope and warmth from the sunshine slowly disappeared. The intersections of lines and colors might be applied by me in the artwork later to express contrast and conflict.

Works Cited

Anderson, Nancy. “Aaron Douglas.” NGA Online Editions.

“Slavery in America.” History.

Wingate, Jennifer. “Aaron Douglas “Into Bondage” 1936.” NGA Online Editions.

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