Lewis was born July 23, 1909 in Harlem, New York. Always interested in art, he had amassed a large art history library by the time he was a young man. His early paintings were mostly figurative, including “Meeting Place” (1930), “The Yellow Hat” (1936), and “Dispossed” (1940).
In the late 1940s, his work became increasingly abstract, including “Tenement I” (1952), “Harlem Turns White” (1955), and “Night Walker No. 2” (1956). His painting “Migrating Birds” (1954) won the Popular Prize at the 1955 Carnegie International Exhibition. In 1953, Lewis was a founding member of the SPIRAL Group which sought to define how African American artists could contribute to the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1972, Lewis received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1975 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lewis’ paintings are in the collections of numerous major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.