Seeing Art through Picasso’s studio – An African-American Conceptual Artist’s consideration

Pablo Picasso in his Cannes studio, 1956. Photograph: Arnold Newman/Getty Images

This collection of photos was gathered by myself to give me a fresh look at Picasso as a man and to think through his cultural production, specifically when he created works of art based on captured and sold African Art. Entire libraries have been written about Picasso’s work. As as African-American Conceptual artist in Los Angeles, who is now embarking on the production of paintings for the first time in two decades, I feel compelled to consider the ramifications of myself creating paintings, knowing that Picasso created several that directly borrowed from captured African sculptures, then adapted their multidimensional perspectives and haunting imagery to produce works of High Modernism. It is only now in the 21st century that  even a small number of African-American artists have entered the artworld and been considered to be making considerable aesthetic achievements in painting, yet African-Americans have painted in and out of America (see Henry Tanner in 19th century Paris) for well over a hundred years. We know the power of painting – from its capacity to represent – to its capacity to represent nothing other than its own existence, yet be revered as the greatest of all possible human cultural achievements. What I have already mentioned here comes to mind every time I look at a contemporary African-American artist working in paint. In my mind ideas whirl about what it means to be a full-blooded American, whose people have lived through great trauma, and who now in the 21st  century are being invited to take part in the upper strata of international society through the production of our art. This art gets categorized as coming from an African-American perspective, but that worldview is never clearly laid out. What is never said is that the exceptionally well-educated African-American artist is no different from his counterparts who are educated at world-class French technique cooking schools. To learn painting is to study the history of Italian painting and French painting, and to know that the worlds that painting were born and represented have transformed more than once, from being objects for the church to erect images of God and his son and flock, to becoming a tool of phenomenal representational power of the emotional world of a human being in the West. African-American artists know this and embrace it, just as jazz  musicians embraced Western musical instruments and tonal systems, then overlaid them with specific, masterful musical narratives that had never found voice before in Africans in America culture. Yet we as artists are not starting out in 1890 or 1907 or 1940 or 1968 and the world has changed in ways we would have never imaged, both good and not. The similarity today with jazz is that there are no requisite notes to be played, no certain and absolute way of creation, and the doors have been blown off of the Conceptual Art world whereby now every form is salient and relevant. The self-assumed hierarchy of Conceptual Art, which imaged itself to be a superior form of intellectual life, remains today often without producing an image that was as sound as the philosophical argument that stood in the work’s defense. Today the artist’s world is expanding as fast as the universe once did, yet it is in this maelström of disbelief and new realities, than the most savory elements and aspects of contemporary art is being born. So, farewell for now, I have several new paintings to impress my imagination upon as a global  citizen living in the United States of America.

Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles

View of the painting ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso in his studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, illustration from ‘Verve’, no.1, December 1937 (b/w photo)

Image ID: CHT 253093

View of the painting 'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso in his studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, illustration from 'Verve', no.1, December 1937 (b/w photo)

Credit: View of the painting ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso in his studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, illustration from ‘Verve’, no.1, December 1937 (b/w photo), Maar, Dora (1907-97) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library

Book cover: Picasso’s collection of African & Oceanic Art

Picasso with still camera

Picasso in studio, wearing a suit

Michael Sima, “Picasso and Samuel Kootz in Picasso’s Studio”, Paris, 1947 . Photograph. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Provided by Yale University Art Gallery

Brassai’s photo of a gathering at Picasso’s studio. Left to Right: Ortiz de Zarate, Francoise Gilot, Fenosa, Jean Marais, Pierre Reverdy, Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Brassai himself, at Picasso’s atelier in the Rue des Grands-Augustins on the Left Bank in Paris

Brassaï’s In Picasso’s Studio, Rue des Grands Augustins, 1939
Picture: Brassaï Estate – RMN

“Picasso, Villa Californie, Cannes 1957” (photograph by Andre Villers)
Picasso’s Southern France Villa Californie studio was his last place of work before the artist’s death. Home to some of Picasso’s radical late-career experiments, the space was stuffed with knick-knacks, totems and canvases.

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio shot

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Cosmos. Oil on canvas  2012 by Vincent Johnson

Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.

Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 1, 2012 and posted here.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson – in studio
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles.

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