Claudette Johnson

Untitled Blocks, 2019, gouache and pastel on paper,
152.40 x 121.90 cm

Claudette Johnson’s intimate studies of black men and women lend the portrayed figures a profound sense of character and presence. Addressing both the black body and the subject’s interiority, two central concerns for her practice, Johnson complicates and challenges historical constructions and traditions of representation. 

Reclining Figure, 2017, gouache and pastel on paper, 113 x 257 cm

Installation view, Claudette Johnson, Hollybush Gardens, London, 2017

Kind of Blue, 2020, gouache, pastel ground, pastel, 121.92 x 152.40 cm

Featuring a reclining young man, Kind of Blue, 2020, explores the way a horizontal figure can inhabit the picture plane, while also recalling and subverting the iconography of the reclined (typically female) body in histories of representation. It is large in scale, as with much of Johnson’s work, such that her mark-making becomes gestural and bodily. Johnson typically builds up layers slowly, here alternating between pastel and gouache, progressively building her subject into a commanding figure. In the finished picture, remaining white spaces are contrasted with areas of vibrant blue gouache and dense pastel in an adept formal exploration of empty space, line, and pigment, which Johnson characterises as a ‘play between empty and full’.

Standing Figure with African Masks, 2018, pastels and gouache on paper, 163 x 133 cm

Figure with Figurine, 2019, gouache and pastel on paper, 150.20 x 105.50 cm

Seated Figure II, 2017, gouache and pastel on paper,
161 x 124 cm [framed]

Figure in Raw Umber, 2018, pastels on paper, 163 x 133 cm

Figure with Raised Arms, 2017, gouache, pastel and masking tape on paper, 163 x 132 cm [framed]

Seated Figure I, 2017, gouache on paper, 163 x 123 cm

Installation view, Claudette Johnson, Hollybush Gardens, London, 2017

Untitled, 2015, gouache and pastel on paper, 154 x 104 cm, installation view, Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, Modern Art Oxford, 2019. Photo: Ben Westoby, © Modern Art Oxford
Doing Lines 2 (Lockdown) Line Journeys, 2020, oil pastel on paper, 100.56 x 72 cm

Oil Sketch, 2019, oil pastel on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm

Oil Sketch, 2019, oil pastel on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm

Installation view, Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, Modern Art Oxford, 2019. Photo: Ben Westoby, © Modern Art Oxford.

Working from life using a mirror, Johnson’s self-portrait drawings explore the use of line in depicting the self, finding different ways to move across a familiar body. The gestural lines exude energy and speed, overlapping, criss-crossing, and blurring one another. Johnson notes that the multiplicity of lines, or ‘attempts’, are part of the journey of drawing, which involves ‘not erasing but retaining numerous re-sightings of the same form, each line taking us across the body’s terrain by a different route.’

Installation view, Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, Modern Art Oxford, 2019. Photo: Ben Westoby, © Modern Art Oxford

Afterbirth, 1990, pastel on paper, 118 x 83 cm [framed]
Untitled, 1990, pastel on paper, 129 x 73 x 3 cm [framed]

Texts

Review: Claudette Johnson at Modern Art Oxford
By Rachel Spence, Financial Times, 9 July 2019

Review: Claudette Johnson at Hollybush Gardens
By Sonya Dyer, Frieze, Issue 193, March 2018

Claudette Johnson
By Kate Mcfarlane, in Close: Drawn Portraits (Exhibition catalogue: Drawing Room, 2018)

Claudette Johnson: Portraits for a Small Room
Including a Closer Look An Education Through Exhibition Project (198 Gallery, London, 1995)

Pushing Back the Boundaries
With writings by Claudette Johnson, Lubaina Himid, and Maud Sulter (Exhibition catalogue; Rochdale Art Gallery, 1990)

Personal Statement
From The Pan-Afrikan Connection, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, 1983

Biography

Claudette Johnson (born 1959, Manchester, UK) lives and works in London, UK. Johnson started her career as part of the newly formed BLK Art Group, which she joined in 1981 while she was a student at Wolverhampton University. In the 1980s Johnson showed her work in a number of significant shows including Five Black Women, Africa Centre, London,1983; Black Women Time Now, Battersea Arts Centre, London,1984; The Thin Black Line, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1985; In This Skin: Drawings by Claudette Johnson, Black Art Gallery, London, 1992.

Johnson’s recent solo exhibitions include Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, Modern Art Oxford, 2019, and Claudette Johnson, Hollybush Gardens, London, 2017. She has participated in numerous group exhibition, including Close: Drawn Portraits, The Drawing Room, London, 2018; The Place Is Here, South London Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary, UK, both 2017; No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, 2015-16; and Thin Black Line(s), Tate Britain, 2012. Her work is held in numerous public collections, including Tate, British Council Collection, Arts Council Collection, Manchester Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Rugby Museum, and Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

 

Download CV