William H. Johnson

An American Modern

Edited by Teresa G. Gionis
With Contributions by Richard J. Powell, Leslie King-Hammond, and Lowery Sims

  • $29.95 paperback (9780295991481) Add to Cart
  • hardcover not available
  • Published: 2011
  • Subject Listing: Art History / African American Art; African American Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 120 pp., 75 color illus., 8 x 10 in.
  • Published with: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University
  • Series: Jacob Lawrence Series on American Artists
  • Contents

"My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually, all that which in time has been saved up in my family of primitiveness and tradition, and which is now concentrated in me." - William H. Johnson

An essential figure in modern American art, William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was a virtuoso skilled in various media and techniques, who produced thousands of works over a career that spanned decades, continents, and genres. This volume considers paintings from the collection of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, that show the pivotal stages in Johnson's career as a modernist painter of post-impressionist and expressionist works reminiscent of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Soutine, and the vernacular paintings in which he articulates his specific, unforgettable voice as an artist.

In this lavishly illustrated book, some of the world's premier scholars of William H. Johnson and African American art history examine the artist and his artistic genius in fresh new ways, including his relationship with one of his earliest patrons, the Harmon Foundation; the critical role played by scholars at the nation's historically black colleges and universities; the context of Johnson's experiences living in Harlem and his deep southern roots; and Johnson as a trailblazer in the genres of still life and landscape painting.
Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University. Other contributors are Aaron Bryant, David C. Driskell, Leslie King-Hammond, and Lowery Stokes Sims.
Foreword, Anna R. Cohn

Introduction, Gabriel Tenabe

1. Preserving a Legacy, David C. Driskell

2. Trembling Vistas, Primal Youth, Richard J. Powell

3. Johnson and the Semiotics of Landscape and Still Life, Lowery Stokes Sims

4. Rural Rituals and Urban Realities, Leslie King-Hammond

5. Creating Church, Leslie King-Hammond

6. Devotion and Disrepute, Richard J. Powell

7. BLACK thou ART . . . BLACK thou AIN'T, Aaron Bryant

Selected Bibliography
Image Credits

"This new book brings to life Johnson's conscious combination of formal training, international influences, and personal experiences to pare his style down to the very simplest, starkest terms . . . forever marking him as a truly American modern."
-Robin Meyer, Artes Magazine, September 2011

"Through his art, Johnson's life is triumphant. It celebrates the richness of human creativity, the beauty of the land, and the worth and dignity of people."
-Clint Schemmer,, September 2011