Fusing social realism with a modernist approach to natural forms, this close-up view of a couple evokes the distinctive figurative style of the artist’s politically charged sculptures and prints. The inscribed date of 1944 situates Friends during the period when Catlett and her first husband, Charles White, taught at the progressive George Washington Carver School in Harlem. For Catlett, the experience opened her eyes to the limitations of her own middle-class background. Teaching in this environment, she explained, "gave me a basis for what I wanted to do in art"—namely to address the lives of working-class African Americans.
Although small in scale, Friends projects a monumental presence that is both graphic and sculptural. Catlett foregrounds the expressive, angular faces of the man and woman, crafted with an intricately layered web of fluctuating linear patterns. Made early in Catlett’s career, the work showcases her mastery of technique and composition in the tautly constructed play of folds and curves in the couple’s clothes that accompanies the quiet drama of their gaze-driven dialogue.