William H. Johnson: American Modern

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Xico Greenwald writes about the exhibition William H. Johnson: An American Modern at the Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, on view through March 23, 2014.

Greenwald notes: "Johnson’s career traces a captivating course from his Afro-American origins in the rural south, through his cosmopolitan art education and embrace of European modernist innovations, and his final rejection of them in favor of a folk-art style… Painted with a heavy touch that belies Johnson’s technical expertise, these works seem restless, striving for a meaning beyond a likeness. A painting of a vase of flowers, which simplifies the bouquet into rough orange knobs of paint, conveys this sense. In a 1934 interview with a Danish newspaper Johnson said 'My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually.' "

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