The Contemporary Art Society has recently acquired a painting by Claudette Johnson for Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, entitled Standing Figure, 2017. Part of a new series of work developed for a show at Hollybush Gardens last year, the painting depicts a young black woman who whilst never meeting our gaze, is imbued with a sense of confidence. Although Johnson’s works are often defined as ‘portraits’, she has suggested that the drawings sit outside of portraiture as the figures inhabit an undefined space that makes no reference to the sitter’s personal history or location. She uses her work to investigate her interest in the black figure, a place where race, gender and belonging collide.
Johnson started her career as part of the newly formed BLK Art Group, which she joined in 1981 whilst she was a student at Wolverhampton University. Based in the West Midlands, the group was comprised of Black British art students that produced revolutionary work with a strong political and social focus. It often dealt with the issue of institutional racism that was both inside and outside the world of art. Johnson was also a co-founder of the BLKArts Research Group with Marlene Smith and Keith Piper.
In recent years acquisitions have been selected to broaden the media and subject matter represented in Rugby’s collection, connecting it with the temporary exhibition programme and growing audiences. The museum aims to diversify its collections, and use them to reach out to new audiences. Acquiring a new work by Claudette Johnson in early 2018 is a key decision linked to a series of temporary exhibitions that focus on people, communities and their stories. Their exhibition About Face, which opened 30 March 2018, features portraits in the Rugby Collection, with loans from the National Portrait Gallery and The Lowry, and will be the museum’s first display of Standing Figure.
Claudette Johnson lives and works in London. She was a member of the BLK Art Group as well as co-founder of the BLKArts Research Group with Marlene Smith and Keith Piper. Her work is included in the collections of Mappin Art Gallery, Arts Council England Collection, Manchester Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
In the 1980s Johnson showed her work in a number of seminal shows including Five Black Women, Africa Centre, London,1983, Black Women Time Now, Battersea Arts Centre London,1984, The Thin Black Line, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London,1985, In This Skin: Drawings by Claudette Johnson, Black Art Gallery, London, 1992. And more recently she has participated in exhibitions such as,Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain 1966 – 1986, Royal Festival Hall, London,1990, The Caribbean Cultural Centre, The Studio Museum Harlem and The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York,1997/98, Thin Black Line(s), Tate Britain, London, 2011/2012, No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960–1990, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, 2015. The 1980s Today’s Beginnings?, vanabbemuseum, 2016, The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary and South London Gallery, 2017. Johnson is currently in Meticulous Observations at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool curated by Lubaina Himid.