Work on Monday: “Two Heads” by Lester Johnson

"Two Heads" by Lester Johnson
“Two Heads” by Lester Johnson. Photo, Courtesy of Lester Johnson Estate

Today’s Work on Monday looks at the work of expressionist painter Lester Johnson. A  part of the Second Generation of the New York SchoolJohnson lived in SpringsSouthampton and the Bowery in downtown Manhattan. He died in 2010, at age 91, but the artist’s striking work endures. Johnson‘s estate is currently exhibiting his work in three galleries, including Acme Fine Art in Boston, et al Projects in Brooklyn and Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Work on Monday is a weekly look at one piece of art related to the East End, usually by a Hamptons or North Fork artist, living or dead, created in any kind of media. Join the conversation by posting your thoughts in the comments below and email suggestions for a future Work on Monday here.

Two Heads
Lester Johnson (January 27, 1919-May 30, 2010)
Oil on canvas
20 × 30 inches, 1969
Currently at Acme Fine Art

Johnson‘s “Two Heads” is among his smaller paintings. Featuring two crudely rendered faces painted in black and white, with an almost symmetrical composition, the work demonstrates this painter’s ability to create powerful images in a deceptively simple way. His thick, expressive black lines add weight and physicality to the painting, as well as a sort of brooding quality, which adds to its emotional resonance.

“Heads” are recurrent in Johnson‘s work. In the mid- to late- 1950s, profiles and frontal heads, painted in thick brushstrokes, marked the beginning of his career as a figurative expressionist artist. Gradually heads became full bodies, and solitary heads became groups. Over the course of the next four decades, Johnson still returned at times to small paintings with pairs or trios of heads. His last two paintings were portraits, of himself and of his wife, Josephine, thus coming full circle.

Painted in 1969, “Two Heads” has grown better with time. Slight cracking in the oil and the patina of age adds another dimension to the piece and its pair of iconic heads.

Part of this text provided by the Lester Johnson Estate.

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