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Daniel LaRue Johnson

(1938 - 2017)
Born in Los Angeles, African American painter, sculptor, printmaker Daniel LaRue Johnson (1938-2017) studied at Chouinard and in Paris with Alberto Giacometti. He was 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.

Throughout the early 1960s Johnson and his wife, artist Virginia Jaramillo, traveled extensively, often spending long periods of time in New York. After graduating in 1965, Johnson received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship that allowed the couple to live in Paris for a time. Upon their return, they settled permanently in New York, and the move marks a shift in Johnson's work. The visually arresting and emotive construc­tions gave way to a more painterly sculptural practice that played up vibrant colors with glossy surfaces. Very different from the black boxes, these works, for many, seemed more aligned with the slick, hard-edge, cool aesthetic then associated with Los Angeles. Noting Johnson's relationship to Los Angeles and the other artists with whom he attended Chouinard, artist-critic Frank Bowling described his friend's sculpture The Boy Wonder Dejohnette (1969) as a "tulip trip through chrome-plated graveyards of California vulgarity."#In other ways, Johnson's sculptures from the late 1960s into the 1970s reflect what he had always strived for in his work: utmost craftsmanship.

In 1971, his work was included in the historically significant "DeLuxe Show", which was one of the first racially integrated exhibitions in the United States – supported by the Menil family, also including artists such as Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, Virginia Jaramillo, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski.

In 2011 Johnson's work was featured prominently in the exhibition "Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980." In a review of the exhibiton 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.”

In 2017, Johnson’s work was featured in Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (London, UK) which toured to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (AR, USA); Brooklyn Museum (NY, USA); the Broad (CA, USA) and de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (CA, USA). Johnson’s work is in many prestigious public collections, including: Museum of Modern Art (NY, USA); Whitney Museum of American Art (NY, USA); California African American Museum (CA, USA); and the Guggenheim Museum (NY, USA).