Claudette Johnson’s recent works in oil, oil stick and egg tempera convey an unmistakable Black presence, compensating for the persistent distortions and erasures that obfuscate the Black figure in art. Traditionally working with pastel, watercolor and gouache, the artist brings a sense of vibrancy and material density to her full-scale paintings, usually captured from life. In an exploration of vulnerability, comfort, candidness and power, Johnson foregrounds the complexity of humanity in any shared encounter, granting her subjects their right to selfhood in the experience of being seen.
Johnson started her career as one of the co-founders of the BLK Art Group, which she joined in 1981 while still a student at Wolverhampton University. In an effort to bring young Black artists from Wolverhampton University together, the BLK Art Group organized the historic First National Black Art Convention in 1982, attended by several influential contemporary artists like Frank Bowling, Lubaina Himid, Rasheed Araeen and Sonia Boyce. The lecture Johnson delivered at the convention on depicting Black woman figures within Western art history—notably the only presentation by a woman artist—erupted into a heated dialogue. The discussion catalyzed the formation of a network of women artists at the forefront of the British Black Art Movement.
Claudette Johnson (b. 1959, Manchester, UK) lives and works in London. She has recently exhibited solo projects at Hollybush Gardens, London (2021); Modern Art Oxford (2019); and Hollybush Gardens, London (2017). Johnson has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Rock My Soul II (Stockholm), Galleri Futura, Stockholm (2022); Courtauld Connections: Works from our National Partners, The Project Space, The Courtauld Gallery, London (2022); Drawing Closer, RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island (2022); Me, Myself and I: Artists’ Self-Portraits, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, England (2022); Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 50s—Now, Tate Britain, London, England (2021); From Hockney to Himid: Sixty Years of British Printmaking, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, England (2021); Close: Drawn Portraits, The Drawing Room, London, England (2018); The Place Is Here, South London Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2017); No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, (2015-16); and Thin Black Line(s), Tate Britain, London (2012). Her work is held in numerous public collections, including Tate, London; British Council Collection, London; Arts Council Collection, London; Manchester Art Gallery; Wolverhampton Art Gallery; Rugby Museum; and Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, England.