Skilled in a variety of media and techniques, Johnson created thousands of works from the 1920s through the 1940s.
The Florence, S.C., native moved to New York City when he was 17 years old and spent some time studying with artist Charles Hawthorne before heading to France to further his education.
“When he returned to New York, his style changed drastically,” says DeJáy Duckett, associate director and associate curator of the ARG. “He distilled everything that he had learned while he was overseas and his experiences in New York, his memories of growing up in South Carolina, and it all came together into a style that he’s best known for that’s very bold and colorful.”
Johnson’s artistic style evolved from post-impressionist and expressionist to vibrant folk art, such as his “Christ Crucified” and “Ring Around the Rosey” pieces.
Featuring 20 pieces of Johnson’s work, the display is part of a 10-city tour from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The paintings in the exhibit are part of Morgan State University’s art collection.
An opening reception for the exhibit, with a jazz performance, will be held on Friday, Jan. 17, at 5:30 p.m. Guthrie Ramsey, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music in the School of Arts & Sciences, will premiere his composition, “The William H. Johnson Suite.” The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies.
The exhibit runs through Sunday, March 23, at the ARG, which is located inside Fisher Fine Arts Library at 220 S. 34th Street. The Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The ARG is closed on Monday and some holidays.