William H. Johnson was a prolific painter whose career spanned decades. He moved to New York City at the age of 17 to study at the National Academy of Design. Afterwards he moved to France where he studied modernism. When he returned to the United States, Williams immersed himself in African American folk culture thus leading to a new exploration in his work.
Bright, bold, and eclectic – his work depicted the daily life of black folks in New York City. He was dedicated to the concept of “primitiveness” and tradition; and believed that a people’s connection to nature affected that people’s art, allowing cultural and spiritual elements to seep through. (Could Basquiat have been inspired by Johnson’s philosophy?)
Johnson died in 1970 after a long and debilitating fight with mental illness. He left behind over one thousand paintings that are now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection.
“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