Norman Lewis developed his own style within the Abstract Expressionist movement. After studying commercial design in high school he spent several years as a seaman in South America and the Caribbean. He began his painting career as a social realist in the 1930s, when he studied at Columbia University, trained in the studio of Augusta Savage (1892–1962), and joined the Harlem 306 Group. He emerged as a politically conscious artist, worked for the Works Progress Administration, and became deeply involved in the Harlem art community. In the 1940s Lewis created gestural, jazz-inspired works with atmospheric effects in a bright, expressive palette, with calligraphic lines arranged in dynamic, swarm-like formations. He had a series of solo shows at the Willard Gallery in New York beginning in 1949 and was included in the exhibition Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1951. In response to the civil rights movement he co-founded the SPIRAL artist group in 1963 and helped establish New York’s Cinque Gallery for minority artists in 1969. Lewis received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1975 and had a major retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2015.