Johnson, Lester Frederick – American Artist

Lester Frederick Johnson (American, 1919-2010)

Lester Johnson had his first solo show at the Artists Gallery in 1951. In the 1960s, he was a maverick associate of the Abstract Expressionists in New York, who regarded him as talented, but misguided. Still, he was one of the few figurative artists voted into their famous weekly gathering known as the Eighth Street Club. In the 1970s, Johnson shifted from somber paintings depicting grim, boxy figures in thick impasto to paintings of stylized women wearing colorful print dresses and men wearing bowler hats. Their figures crowded his canvases and moving ebulliently through city streets. “If there is such a thing as the poetry of congestion, Mr. Johnson invented it,” John Russell wrote in The New York Times in 1977. “The people in his painting just love company. They can’t get enough of it. No matter how he packs them in we feel that both he and they would gladly find room for someone else.” This is the era of the painting catalogued as 1170.

Johnson taught figure drawing at Yale until his retirement in 1989. The James Goodman Gallery in Manhattan surveyed his work in 2004 in the exhibition “Lester Johnson: Four Decades of Painting.” In 2005, the University of Connecticut in Storrs mounted a 50-year retrospective of his work, “People Passing By: Paintings, Drawings and Prints by Lester Johnson,” at the William Benton Museum of Art. His work is in the permanent collections of over 40 major institutions, including The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.

Information Courtesy of Rago Arts, October, 2019.

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