Eyes of a painter

Through the Eyes of a Painter

If the name William Henry Johnson rings a bell, you probably think of colorful, primitive paintings that show rural South Carolina during the first few decades of this century.

Johnson was born and brought up in Florence in 1901. He grew up in shortage and like many of his family had little education. His father, that supposedly was a famous part of the white society, did nothing to help the situation. His mother then married and had four more kids. The stepfather was a hard worker and all was well for a time, until he was hurt in a mishap and was unable to job. Johnson's mother cooked, washed and ironed for white families to feed her kids. The oldest child, William, had to do fieldwork during the period, helped out at people's home, and looked overed his younger brothers and sisters.

Seventeen years later on, he moved to New York City, where he enrolled and studied in the impressive school of the National Academy of Design. His paintings show a lot about him, they symbolize his most original period, when he chose to express his individuality as an African-American, and when he got away from the academic custom in which he was taught.

William started copying comic strips at a young age. A professor who saw him carving pictures in the dirt and mud gave him some art supplies. By the occasion he reached his teens, William had departed from school to help hold up his family, but had decided to begin a life as a artist and go to New York to study.

In 1926, Johnson moved to Paris, where he not only decorated but also started his education of modernist art. He soon moved to the south of France, where he began quickly increasing his own method, a realist-Impressionism strongly influenced by Van Gogh and Cezanne. One of the most prevailing influences of Johnson during that period was the labor of Soutine, with its use of unclear forms to show emotion and mood. In 1930 Johnson wedded a Danish textile artist and started a new life in Kerteminde, Denmark where he worked busily. He and his wife also traveled all through Norway and North Africa, studying conventional crafts and painting in both cultures. Those actions strongly inclined Johnson's later style: he found in native works a mobile courage and gullibility of form upon the qualities of which he could base so much of his mature works.

"His use of the African American community of both Harlem and South Carolina as well as a very conscience "folk" style of painting helps to show how the concept of "self" was linked to the tradition and change in Harlem. By casting an urban scene within a rural style of painting Johnson speaks to the sense of the new, urban, African American community is formed from the displaced parts of past communities." [4]

In 1933, with the assembly threat of war in Europe, Johnson returned to New York and came upon another significant influence: the strength and enthusiasm of life in Harlem. It was in the late 1930's and 1940's, bringing as one his interests in novelty, ancient art, and African-American life, that Johnson then found a grown-up style. His best paintings typically place some sort of flattened figures, in a incomplete and high-keyed palette, on inattentive ground, depicting scenes of his daily life with huge character and power. "Caf" (1939-1940), for instance, depicts a elegantly dressed up Harlem couple, showing Johnson's great interest in a favorite and enthusiastic modernist subject: cafe life. The noticeably colored "Going to Church" (1940-41) seems to show the country settings of Johnson's childhood.

Jan 2, 1938, increasing records are now being kept in the Chicago public schools that will have far attainment goods, William H. Johnson was a proud student of this school and was greatly honored by them in many possible.

"He interpreted the religious symbols in to black symbols. He also engaged the community in through a simple style that has been called "naive" or "primitive". This self-consciousness is in both construction and design. He casts the northern community in the colors and styles of Carolina. The simple geometric forms and brilliant "Carolina colors" allowed Johnson to beautifully and starkly understate the harshness and beauty of daily life in Harlem." [2]

Mar 20, 1998, William H. Johnson was a very gifted painter who intermittently worked all over the world before coming back to the United States in 1938 to build up a even, luminously tinted, bright style that he used to depict and find out scenes from black American life. These scenes, which indicate some of his own life experiences encourage many painters around the world.

The Florence native became a injured party of a mental illness in 1947 and was institutionalized for the previous 23 years of his life. Although considered a gifted painter, he never completely realized his assure.

After he became ill, Johnson's work was stored, and not handled nicely, in a warehouse in New York and nearly got shattered. The Harmon Foundation, an association which supported black artists and brought about their work, saved the works f art in the mid-1950s. More than 1300 pieces of art were brought to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in 1967. You can now view a sample of his paintings by going to the National Museum of American Art and plugging in his name under the look through trait. After the Museum exhibited his works, the significance of Johnson's work was known. Johnson's works of art have been exhibited in South Carolina, at the Greenville County Museum of Art in 1993 and the State Museum in Columbia in 1995. He then passed away in 1970, just when events started to open up that would fetch him such praise.

South Carolinians can get a sight of Johnson's work at a show on display at the State Museum in Columbia. The show includes works rented from public and confidential collections around South Carolina. Lenders contain the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University, the Columbia Museum of Art, the Gibbes Museum of Art and Johnson family members, who still live in Florence County to this day.

We're talking about a black man who was born into a family of self-effacing means in a little South Carolina town at the twist of the century.

"The range of William H. Johnson's art is immense. His styles are as diverse as the realist/impressionist schools, Van Gogh like expressionist landscapes, as well as what has been described as "naive" art. A a child in Florence, S.C., Johnson's love of drawing came from his copying the simple pictures of the daily comics" [9]

Works Cited

  • Adrian, Kathleen. "William H. Johnson." William H. Johnson. National Museum of American Art, 1991. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. .
  • Campbell, Mary Schmidt. Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. Book ed. Vol. One. New York: Abradale Press, 1987. Print.
  • Chambers, Veronica. Harlem Renaissance. Book ed. Vol. One. USA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998. Print.
  • Dailey, Victoria. "The William H. Johnson foundation for the arts." William H. Johnson. The William H. Johnson foundation of the arts, 1998. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. .
  • Henderson, Harry. "A history of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the present ." Johnson, William H.- the University of South Carolina . Pantheon Books, 1993. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. .
  • Johnson, Mark M. "William H. Johnson's world on paper." Arts and Amp; Activites 2006: 1. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. .
  • Powell, Richard J. "I Baptise thee: William H. Johnson." I Baptise Thee. Simthsonian American Art Museum, 1929. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. .
  • Vetrocq, Marcia E. "Setting the Record Straight- painter William H. Johnson, Various Galleries." Art Publications 2009: 2. find articles. Web. 12 Jan. 2010.

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