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
http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com
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.

Abstract Painting and Freedom

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

Remind me of the fact that Abstract picture making, or the making of abstract paintings, is the highest level of freedom for the artist. The fact of the matter is that Abstraction frees the artist from having to represent anyone or anything, for any reason, from the political to the ego mania of portraiture. Abstraction is itself the site of freedom. The artist is free to explore every internal idea – whether it be the nature of existence itself, the meaning of life or merely the majesty of the infinite materiality of paint, as explored by artists as wide-ranging in painterly concerns as Jack Whitten, Amy Sillman, John McLaughlin and Gerhard Richter. It was none other than the United States of America’s government itself that both shadowed, foretold, broadcast and shipped out to the world Abstract Painting in America, in the form of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the post-war period. Abstraction was viewed as the visual equivalent of jazz, where there were no set rules, where free improvisation was the rule and never the exception. Jazz influenced Abstract Painting, from its fluidity of thought and language play, to its flights of genius in brushstrokes. Abstract Painting in the form of Abstract Expressionism recognized it would not want to compete with the direct bloodline of European painting history. So it took from painting and started a completely new road, one full of American flash and fire, with jazz in both the foreground and background, listened to live at night and in the studio by daylight. Abstract Expressionism removed itself from European easel painting, which had removed itself from painting for and in the church.  So in a new land and with a new plan painting burst forth with a vibrancy and native intelligence and energy that has caused it to not only rise up, but also withstand the difficult hours when painting became to be viewed as a lessor form of analytical engagement. This lasted for a brief while in terms of the reality of the life of things. Now painting has been elevated as it again has large numbers of the most intellectually engaged artists working it the medium. Do not forget that paint today is by a creation of science, yet its materials come from the earth and allow both woman and man to create and recreate the world – in their own image, or in the case of Abstraction, in images that explore every available manner of thinking about reality and existence itself, by being both mirror and presenter of philosophical truths.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2012

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.

photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.

Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011

http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com
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.

Vincent Johnson: Nine Grayscale paintings in Los Angeles

Grayscale painting No. 1

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – white paint layer applied and drying in my studio

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot

During the summer of 2011, after going to an art talk in Highland Park in LA while the Los Angeles Lakers were being decimated by the Dallas Mavericks, I decided that I would again put into play the knowledge I had acquired about how a painting was constructed. I had abandoned painting over 15 years ago while in grad school in Los Angeles, in favor of working with photography. One of the key motivating factors in my wanting to paint again was how much I now knew about the history of the medium – not merely of what the pictures looked like, but literally how they were made with a variety of techniques used to build the first layers from light to dark or from dark to light, followed by dozens if not 30 or forty layers of glazing as in a painting by Corot. One of the issues for me as well was seeing how many artists in LA and New York were making one layer paintings that were not visually satisfying. It was clear to be that the technique of making a painting all at once and in one day was not working for all too many artists. And it was obvious to me that many of the paintings I was looking at were made without realizing that the majesty of painting is achieved primarily through the layering of paint, as paint itself is a film, no different from a film get being used to create a certain kind of light in a film. So what I set out to do was to create Abstract Paintings using the techniques of Representation and Realism. Not surprisingly, the quality of the paint I was using produced visual effects that were far more compelling than had I tried to force the paint to behave in a certain way. I allowed for greatest chance events on the canvas, and limited my palate to a range of gray, black and white paints, as well as silver and gold from top grade artist paint companies. The first Nine Grayscale paintings were exhibited during the late summer in Los Angeles at the Beacon Arts Center. I prepared each canvas by layering each one with basic grayscale underpaint, then allowed them to air dry for well over a week. I then returned to each canvas and applied a layer of the finest white paint on the market, along with a mixture of painting medium, then again allowed as much as two weeks for this layer to dry, before attacking each canvas with a wide array of studio tools and brushes and  rags to get the visual effects I wanted to make. After this I allowed each layer to again dry and then came in with brushes and the full range of my palate and more glazing medium, finally completing the Nine Grayscale paintings over a two month period. I documented the paintings at the different stages I’ve described here. For my second group of grayscale paintings I decided to go to 30×40 inch canvases, up from 20×24 inches, to see if the techniques I was using could be applied to those scales as well. One of these paintings has been left at the second stage – the white paint both covering and conveying the strong grayscale underpaint beneath. With my now also doing cutout collages again, prompted by my creating a new work for The Bearden Project, I am now working in painting, cutout collage, photography, photomontage, and soon will be posting video shorts from my upcoming trip to London.

http://vincentjohnsonart.com/

feel free to contact me at:  LANYArtiststudio@gmail.com

Grayscale Painting No. 2

Grayscale painting No. 3

Grayscale painting No. 4

Graysale painting No. 5

Grayscale painting No. 6

Grayscale painting No. 7

Grayscale painting No. 8

Grayscale painting No. 9

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 1

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 2

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio shot – 1 (Silver hand)

Vincent Johnson – in my studio working on my Nine Grayscale Paintings

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – first stage of grayscale painting

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio view of stage one of grayscale paintings drying

Vincent Johnson Biography  as of November 2011
Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Soho House, Los Angeles, Palihouse, West Los Angeles, Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, Locust Projects, Miami, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Europe and Los Angeles. His most recent work, a series of nine grayscale paintings, was shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles in the group show entitled The Optimist’s Parking Lot. He has a new cutout collage work in the upcoming The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He also participated in the inaugural edition of Pulse Fair Los Angeles with Las Cienegas Projects. He is also participating in Locust Projects Miami’s annual benefit exhibition in the late fall of 2011.
Parked wreck, Los Angeles (2005) by Vincent Johnson

Vincent Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986.   He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated 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 nominated for 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.

http://vincentjohnsonart.com/

LANYArtiststudio@gmail.com

Bearden Time, Collage for The Bearden Project – Studio Museum in Harlem

Bearden Time, cutout collage by Vincent Johnson (2011). This work was created in my studio in September of 2011 for the Studio Museum in Harlem's "The Bearden Project." I researched into how Romare Bearden created his magnificent collages, then decided to use some of his techniques combined with those of my own. Bearden would score, scratch, and cut into his images. The large red central figure in this work was created using a type of paper that I had used over 15 years ago to create portraits by removing the shiny slick color surface with an exacto knife. I also used the knife's point to draw into the paper and remove some of the materials. It felt good getting back to some of the work I had done well into my past but had stopped. In this instance I did not want to do an overall collage that used every part of the surface. I wanted to convey something of the mood of New York when I was a student, and had heard that Romare Bearden had a studio on Canal Street. I imagined it was not far away from Pearl Paint.

Here is my Bearden Time collage standing up while I photograph it with my iphone to be able to send an image to the museum of the completed work. I used everything from soap to wet clothes to brillo pads to work the surface. I fixed the images to the paper using Nova Gel. I then painted completely over each image with the NOVA GEL to force the photo paper to adhere to the paper's surface. The outer photos are created by doing a doll-like cutout from a magazine, then I cut into the printed photo papers using the cutout as a basic guide but allowing me to go in any direction I so choose.

Vincent Johnson, Bearden Time (2011), The Bearden Project, Studio Museum in Harlem. The exhibition will be at the Studio Museum for four months!

It was fun doing this piece and it has inspired me to do several more. I had already done a few montages starting in 2008 using found images. Using Bearden’s techniques opened the door for me to use my oldest skill sets that are now coming back into my work as never before. In September of this year I produced my first body of new paintings in well over a decade. And they are abstract grayscale paintings, something that I would have never done in the past. I’ve been working with photography over the past decade and produced one large-scale sculptural work based on a 12 foot long 1950’s Chrysler Air Raid Siren and was part of a five artist team that created a 58 foot long sculptural simulation of Brancusi’s Endless Column crashing into the museum’s gallery.

If you’d like to check out more of my work go here to this link:

http://vincentjohnsonart.com/

Bearden Time, detail (1 of 4)

Bearden Time, detail (2 of 4)

Bearden Time, detail (3 of 4)

Bearden Time, (4 of 4)

LA artworld openings: Henry Tayor at Blum & Poe/Kehinde Wiley at Roberts & Tilton

Henry Taylor’s opening at Blum & Poe was phenomenal. There were young African-American photographers flanked on both sides of Henry, shooting non-stop photographs. Henry has achieved what no other African-American artist has done, which is to be offered representation by one of the world’s most important galleries – Blum & Poe. Henry Taylor has received significant applause for his figurative paintings. He works like artists did in New York in the 1940’s and 1950’s, in a but in a not so easy area of Los Angeles, in Chinatown. He has a huge studio space. He paints from life and from memory and from photos, and from live models, right off of the streets of LA, like artists did in the 19th century in Europe. He was trained to work as a Conceptual Artist but rejected that way of working in favor of a more hands-on approach to image making. Five or six years ago he painted seemingly exclusively on found objects – cigarette packs, cereal boxes, thrown away small pieces of luggage. I saw these works at both Sister gallery in Chinatown, itself a sliver of a gallery space. Later he showed a room sized installation of small painted objects and sculptural assemblages, also in his Chinatown studio/Mesler & Hug gallery.  As his work gained significance in the market, he began to make larger paintings, which culminate today in his 24 foot wide painting with the words WARNING SHOT NOT NEEDED painted in bold black letters across the top of the canvas. In his first large-scale installation sculptural work, where black painted detergent bottles are set atop various poles, such as mops,  he makes painterly gestures using black paint to signify erasure of the spirit, as in the case where a beer can case is almost completely painted over, leaving just enough text left to show that this was a case of Miller High Life, and the HIGH LIFE has been wiped out by black paint. There was a virtual orgy of people congratulating Henry at his opening, including myself. I recall teasing him at the gorgeous Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach about his paintings getting larger, after I saw one of his first maybe 4×6 foot paintings in the Rubell Family Collection’s show entitled 30 Americans earlier that day in December, a couple of years ago.

Henry Taylor's studio - photographed in black and white by the NYTimes, mythologies the artist and sets him back into the era that NYC perceives LA to be in, which is about the year 1945, in 2011.

Henry Taylor's press release for his Blum & Poe show

Henry Taylor's New York Times T magazine photo

Mock up of Henry Taylor's sculptural installation at Blum & Poe

A sculpture in Henry Taylor's show

Henry Taylor's A Jack Move painting at Blue & Poe

Henry Taylor's studio was photographed by the NYTimes in black and white to lend a mythological air to the LA Artworld, which NYC perceives to be living in around 1945, about the time that NYC overtook the 300 year old Paris artworld.

 

a second NYTimes photo of Henry Taylor's studio

Henry Taylor’s début opening at Blum & Poe, March 2011

Henry Taylor's sculptural installation of detergent bottles and mop heads at Blum & Poe

Tu Pac in Henry Taylor's sculptural installation

Henry Taylor's powerful potent, aesthetically compelling painting at Blum & Poe

In this painting by Henry Taylor the earth and sky planes interchange.

Taylor makes a poetic comparison between animals and downtrodden mankind, living both in power and in fear; then he plays with black silhouette head to make symbolic commentary.

Here Taylor seems to say that African-American soul negating texts are built into the society, without it even being conscious of it.

Henry Taylor's opening at Blum & Poe

Kehinde Wiley’s World Stage: Israel opening at Robert & Tilton in Culver City (Los Angeles) was heavily attended. The paintings feature bold uses of color. They seem to me to be more casual snapshot than about penetrating character analysis, and about popularizing the unfamiliar and the exotic.

Kehinde Wiley World Stage: Israel at Roberts&Tilton

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

265 Southwark, South London (2011)

 

Vincent Johnson in London (2011)

LANYArtiststudio@gmail.com

Biography April 2011

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles
Johnson’s work has been exhibited at Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, the Kellogg Museum at Cal Poly Pomona, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica, Another Year in LA gallery at the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, Soho House, West Hollywood and the Boston University Art Gallery and several other venues.
Johnson’s photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Copenhagen and other European venues, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles.
Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997. He studied with Mike Kelly, Jack Goldstein, Stephen Prina, Liz Larner, Chris Williams, Mayo Thompson (formerly of Art&Language), and Liz Larner.
Johnson is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated 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 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 201o he was named a United States Artists project artist.
Johnson’s work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times,  the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. Upcoming is a one person show in Copenhagen, a one person show at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a one person show at Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles. More exhibitions and projects will be announced soon.

Vincent Johnson currently has work in the ForYourArt benefit exhibition at Soho House, West Hollywood, California and will have work in Los Angeles Nomadic Division’s (L.A.N.D.) benefit exhibition and auction at Palihouse in West Hollywood, California in May 2011.  In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. In 2005 he was named Creative Capital grantee. His work has been shown in both the U.S. and in Europe and has been reviewed in the NYTimes, LATimes and Artforum. Future exhibitions are in preparation for shows in the U.S. and in Europe.

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