Richard Johnson

About the Artist


Born in Minneapolis, Richard Johnson has spent much of his adult life in New Orleans since he began showing and teaching in the city in the 1970's.  Today he is a Professor of Art at the University of New Orleans and has been for almost 40 years.  Johnson's work was very much part of the avant garde Abstract Illusionist period that began in the 1970's.  He earned his BFA in 1965 from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1967.  After graduate school, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome Fellowship in Painting and was able to study in Rome for a year.  Later, he received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant in 1981, a Fellowship in 1993 at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the 2003 NOMA Delgado Society Artist of the Year Award.  In 1986, Richard was named Artist of the Year by the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans.  His work resides in over 50 public and corporate collections including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and The British Museum.  Recently, Richard was featured in the 2012 publication A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).  In 2013, the New Orleans Museum of Art honored Richard as an artist whose work and life has made a contribution to New Orleans.


With his current body of work, "Altars and Monuments," Johnson returns to his popular abstract collage technique after a brief departure in 2011 when he concentrated on historical and contemporary depictions of the female nude.  The artist said the nudes were a mental break from his signature abstraction, allowing him to exercise his classical training as a draughtsman. Today "Altars and Monuments" is a return to Johnson's signature technique—abstract illusionist painting. 


Johnson's technique begins with arranging collage elements on the picture plane.  Black and white Xeroxes of everyday imagery allow the artist to segment space and focus on a coherent composition.  The collage imagery becomes unrecognizable to the viewer but may start out as a clipping from a magazine ad.  Jewel-like perfume bottles and draped fabric are re-appropriated in the collage along with crumpled aluminum foil and craft paper.  Then Johnson paints on the Xeroxes so differences in black and white values are echoed in saturated color.  Dark crimson and cobalt blue play a prominent role in these canvases with accents of teal, pink and orange contrasting with the primary palette.


Besides the collage, Johnson has also incorporated splats from his "Considering Liquid" series (2007), and frames, rods and floating grids similar to his abstract work from the 1980's. He was able to use multiple stylistic elements from his past to reach each painting's final state.  One of the differences in this particular body of work is that almost every composition is quasi-bilateral in its symmetry.  Johnson said the bilateral arrangements evolved spontaneously during this series, but they remind of him of religious altars or historical monuments, which led to the title for his show.


Updated, April 2014.

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