Profile: Claudette Johnson (1955-)

Claudette Elaine Johnson is a British visual artist. She is known for her large-scale drawings of Black women and involvement with the BLK Art Group. She was described by Modern Art Oxford as “one of the most accomplished figurative artists working in Britain today”

Standing Figure with African Masks 2018 Claudette Johnson born 1959 Purchased using funds provided by the 2018 Frieze Tate Fund supported by Endeavor to benefit the Tate collection 2019


Claudette Johnson was born in Manchester, UK. She studied Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. While still a student there, she became a founder member of the BLK Art Group and took part in their second show at the Africa Centre, London, in 1983. Her talk, and seminar, at the First National Black Arts Conference in 1982 is recognised as a formative moment in the Black feminist art movement in the UK.

Johnson’s work has featured in important group exhibitions such as Five Black Women at London’s Africa Centre Gallery in 1983, Black Woman Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre in the same year, and The Thin Black Line at the ICA in London in 1986. Reviewing her 1992 solo exhibition In This Skin: Drawings by Claudette Johnson, at the Black Art Gallery, London, artist Steve McQueen (at the time a student at Goldsmiths College) wrote: “What she does is to bring out the soul, sensuality, dignity, and spirituality of the black woman….Claudette Johnson’s work is rooted in her African heritage. Her talent is as powerful as it is obvious.”

Lubaina Himid describes Johnson’s work as “deeply sensuous” and “richly coloured”. The artist calls the Black women in her drawings “monoliths, larger than life versions of women”. Eddie Chambers notes: “These portraits were imposing pieces that demanded the viewer’s attention, as well as their respect.”

Johnson had a solo exhibition at Hollybush Gardens, London (17 November 2017 – 22 December 2017), where a series of seven of her large-scale works on paper was presented, about which Frieze magazine said: “As a body of work, it possesses a profound and tender intimacy.”

In 2019, her first major institutional exhibition since 1990 was held at Modern Art Oxford, the show being described as “an overview of one of the most accomplished figurative artists working in Britain today….her art sets out to redress negative portrayals of black men and women and to counter the invisibility of black people in cultural spheres and beyond.” The reviewer for Art Fund wrote: “Intimate, powerful and sometimes deliberately uncomfortable, Claudette Johnson’s studies of black men and women demand attention and command respect.” According to Apollo magazine: “While Johnson asserts that blackness is a fiction created by colonialism, she insists that this fiction ‘can be interrupted by an encounter with the stories that we have to tell about ourselves’. Johnson’s subjects, by turns defiant and wary, funny and challenging, represent the varieties of stories that can be told by, in the artist’s words, ‘Blackwoman presence.’ As Johnson says, ‘I’m interested in our humanity, our feelings and our politics.’ Her art encapsulates all this in the tenderness and wilfulness of the individual human form.”

Johnson was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to art.

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