Claudette Johnson (born 1959, Manchester, UK) lives and works in London, UK. 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. As part of The First National Black Art Convention in 1982, Johnson became known for her divisive lecture on the depiction of Black female figures within Western art history, an issue she has continued to challenge over the past four decades through portraiture of considerable immediacy. Made primarily with soft pastels on paper, Johnson’s studies of black women and, more recently, men, address both the black body as it is perceived culturally and the depicted subjects’ individual interiority. Often free-floating within fields of flat color or the white of the page, Johnson’s figures emerge through a balance of carefully rendered form and quick, gestural movements. Speaking in 1990 about her often larger-than-life figures, which are almost always drawn from life, Johnson wrote: “I’m interested in giving space to Black women’s presence. A presence which has been distorted, hidden and denied. I’m interested in our humanity, our feelings and our politics; somethings which have been neglected … I have a sense of urgency about our ‘apparent’ absence in a space we’ve inhabited for several centuries.”
Claudette Johnson’s recent solo exhibitions include Still Here, Hollybush Gardens, London (2021); Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, Modern Art Oxford (2019); and Claudette Johnson, Hollybush Gardens, London, (2017). She 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, England (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.