Claudette Johnson was born in Manchester in 1959 and studied at Wolverhampton Polytechnic.
In her work she sought to remedy a lack of representation of the Black female, of their bodies and presence, free from stereotype, objectification and often a temporal context. Her monumental pastel and watercolour works image women clothed comfortably or nude, though not gratuitously so. Her curvature of the black body is not exploitative, but corrects racial stereotypes held about the black female body through figures that are active, demanding to be seen and commanding their own space. Her work often situates these bodies in timeless abstract backgrounds, as forms that stretch and expand beyond the paper, defying constraint. Colour, whether muted and earthy, or vibrantly rendered, contributes to the statuesque, distinctive and, most importantly, visible images she creates. Johnson is also exploring the form and space she and her family and friends inhabit; her work is not overtly political. Untitled 1990 and Woman with an earring (1982) shows these figures in muted backgrounds, concentrating the presence of the subject. By reducing the focus to the bodies themselves alone, Johnson depicts the essential nature of these figures while retaining a rich characterisation through the unknown and hidden histories and stories the bodies inhabit.
Woman with an earring disarticulates the body through the fluctuation of skin tone, where the thigh and raised arm seem separate and disjointed from the overall body, emphasised by the geometric circle bisecting the background. The body appears to reach out of the frame, as if the sitter is just about to fully raise her arms and stretch. The incompleteness of the right side of the drawing suggests the body is already moving or fading. By leaving parts of the paper bare, the almost unfinished nature pertains to hazy memory and an ambiguous sense of loss.
Johnson was part of The Thin Black Line exhibition at the ICA London (1985) alongside Lubaina Himid, Sonia Boyce and Chila Kumari Burman, and also featured in Five Black Women Artists, Africa Centre, London (1983), and Black Women Time Now, Battersea Arts Centre, London (1983). Her 1992 solo show was presented at the Black Art Gallery, London, and she has been in numerous group shows, most recently Carte de Visit, Hollybush Gardens, London (2015-16), Black Art in Focus, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2016) and The Place is Here at Nottingham Contemporary (2017).
Claudette Johnson (b. 1959)
Woman with an earring, 1982
Johnson was concerned with “the space the figure occupies within the boundary of the drawing and its resonances with the boundaried spaces society offers to Black women.” She suggests that women can tell their own story by the way they inhabit their allotted space.
Pastel on wood