Born in Los Angeles, African American painter, sculptor, printmaker Daniel LaRue Johnson studied at Chouinard and in Paris with Giacometti. He is closely associated with Los Angeles’s African American artist movement of the mid-20th century, which developed as a response to the country’s social, political, and economic changes. His varied body of work includes politically charged collages as well as meticulously rendered color abstractions.
Johnson initially exhibited in community venues, and later in academic settings or a few established Los Angeles galleries. In the fall of 1966 UCLA’s Dickson Art Center inaugurated its new building with the national exhibition The Negro in American Art; Daniel LaRue Johnson was a participant. His work from this period is primarily sculptural – his “black box” period. These were dioramic constructions of objects, often repainted in solid black, that address the American civil rights movement. He was invited by John Weber to exhibit some of these works in the exhibition Boxes at the renowned Dwan Gallery.
Following his graduation, Johnson received a Guggenheim grant that allowed him and his wife, Virginia Jaramillo, to live in Paris. Upon his return to the US he settled in New York, where his work began to evolve. He began making sculpture that featured vibrant colors and high-gloss surfaces, and soon thereafter began to produce large-scale, meticulously rendered, polychromatic paintings.
In a review of the historic 2011 show Now Dig This!, in which Johnson was prominently featured, the critic Christopher Knight noted “Daniel LaRue Johnson merged painting with assemblage, affixing fragments of a broken doll, a hacksaw, a mousetrap and rubber hose onto a large, black field of viscous, tar-like pitch. Made in the aftermath of Bull Connor’s notorious Birmingham assault on peaceful civil rights marchers, Johnson injected a jolt of black social consciousness into the exalted status abstract artists then afforded to all-black paintings.”
Daniel LaRue Johnson’s artwork has enjoyed a rich exhibition history, having been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, where his work is in the permanent collection. Johnson’s work was recently featured at the Tate Modern in London in the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”