Lester Johnson 1919 —2010


LESTER JOHNSON   (American  1919 - 2010)

Lester Johnson, a New York artist, known as a second-generation abstract expressionist, was born to a large Lutheran family in Minneapolis. He studied at the Minneapolis School of Art and the St. Paul Art School. There he was introduced to Hans Hofmann's teaching approach, particularly the "push and pull" effects of form and color by St. Paul teachers Alexander Masley and Cameron Booth, both of whom had studied with Hofmann in Munich.

After further study at the Chicago Art Institute, Johnson moved to New York City in 1947 and became one of the first downtown loft-dwellers. He shared a lower East Side studio with Larry Rivers and attended some of Hofmann's New York classes. Rents were cheap but Johnson was broke much of the time as he tried to support his painting through a variety of part-time jobs, including teaching art.

In 1950, he and realist figurative painter Philip Pearlstein shared a studio space. Lester's wife, Jo, had introduced the two artists at a time when she and Pearlstein were studying art history at New York University. Johnson's various studios, on the Bowery and elsewhere, were always one flight up with a view of Manhattan's active street life. No wonder, for over fifty years, street scenes have been a dominant part of his art.

Johnson adopted the working techniques of action painting, which meant he used a great deal of paint. A tube of oil paint might be expended in seconds as he, like Pollock, physically projected himself into the work. The images that Johnson produced were not decorative, but stubbornly confrontational: oversize, brooding, thickly encrusted, scarred surfaces that were alive with recognizable objects and figures.

Even today, few realize how radical it was for Johnson to depict a recognizable subject in an adamantly pro-abstract-expressionist climate. Sculptor George Segal recalled: "The Abstract Expressionists were legislating any reference to the physical world totally out of art. This was outrageous to us".

Rebellion came naturally to Lester Johnson, and he remained tenaciously outside the mainstream. Nonetheless, he produced a body of work that influenced several generations of younger painters and confounded an art establishment in need of neat categorization. He remains one of the few painters whose work holds significance for both abstract and figurative artists.

Lester Johnson's animated men and women, with all their nervous energy, yield themselves only gradually to analysis and will no doubt be reinterpreted for many years to come. His largest achievement is perhaps the degree to which each of his works is still able to convince us that the act of painting is relevant and vital.

Books about Lester Johnson include: Harold Rosenberg, Hilton Kramer and Dore Ashton. Lester Johnson: the Early Paintings 1957-1967; Lester Johnson: Selected paintings, 1970-1986; Lester Johnson: Men with Bowler Hats, 1969-1971: January 19-February 23, 1985; Lester Johnson: The Milford Paintings 1964-65; Harry Rand: Lester Johnson Selected Paintings, 1970-1986; Bert Chernow: Lester Johnson, The kaleidoscopic Crowd; Lester Johnson. Lester Johnson paintings, 1970-1974 [Hardcover]; Lester Johnson.  Paintings 1971 - 1973;  Lester Johnson. Provincetown Watercolors from the 1950s; and, Lester Johnson: Street Scenes;  Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery.  Lester Johnson. Street Scenes 11 March to 12 April 1980 [Exhibition Catalogue];  Carter Ratcliff.  Lester Johnson, Recent paintings: May 23-June 20, 1981, Donald Morris Gallery;  Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Ltd.  Lester Johnson, groups walking, 1981: April 6-May 6, 1982, New York   Lester Johnson: Retrospective, the 1940's to the present : an exhibition of selected oils, watercolors and drawings from the artist's personal collection, November 18 through December 1989; Ruth S Schaffner Gallery.  Lester Johnson: Paintings & Lithographs.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website: http://www.janetlehrfinearts.com

View synoptic biography below.

Bowery mission

Bowery mission
Pencil on paper

11 x 9 inches

LESTER JOHNSON - Exhibitions

Days Lumberyard Studios - ACME Fine Art & Design, Boston, MA

Summer Salon 2008 - ACME Fine Art & Design, Boston, MA

Black & White and a little red... - David Klein Gallery, Birmingham, MI
Figuratively Speaking - ACME Fine Art & Design, Boston, MA

Body Politics: Figurative Prints and Drawings from Schiele to De Kooning - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Gallery Selections - David Klein Gallery, Birmingham, MI

Visions and Revisions - Art on Paper since 1960 - MFA - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MA

Alchemies of the Sixties. From the Rose Art Museum Permanent Collection - The Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA

A Lasting Legacy: Selections From The Lannan Foundation Gift - The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CA

Lester Johnson: Selected Paintings 1970-1987  
The Rose Art Museum, Waltham MA

Lester Johnson - Totemic Sculptures -
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo MI

In Our Time: Houston's Contemporary Arts Museum 1948-1982 - Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY

65th Annual American Exhibition - The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

The Emerging Figure - Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

Internationale Ausstellung Graphik der Gegenwart 1959 - Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaden

Johnson's work is listed in 33 books and is in the permanent collections of some of our major museums.  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Arizona State University Art Museum, Dayton Art Institute; Denver Art Museum, Frederick R Weisman Art Museum, Kresge Art Museum, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge MA; MOCA, Los Angeles CA; Museum of Northern Arizona, Neuberger Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Arkansas Arts Center, The Grace Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Reading Museum, Reading PA; The University of Arizona Museum of Art, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, University Of Kentucky Art Museum, Walker Art Center, and Yale University Art Gallery.

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