Artist Leroy Johnson, an 82-year-old Philadelphia native, has an unwavering love and deep respect for the architecture, character, and residents of the place he's always called home.
His vibrant and engaging artworks speak directly to people living in the inner city and wrestle with some of the most pressing conditions facing African American families today, including inadequate access to medical treatment, police brutality, and urban gentrification.
Johnson was part of the city's Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and '70s and is heavily inspired by pioneers like Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, and Romare Bearden. His love for his hometown and the profound connection with his neighbourhood that animates his work have kept him in Philly, instead of chasing fame in New York or LA, and the result is that a brilliant artist has gone sadly under-recognised.
Preferring to work with found objects and materials, his improvisational compositions and techniques stem from his love of jazz. The beauty and chaos of his compositions, a mix of abstraction and representation, provide a dynamic and spirited look at issues facing black men today. He grew up in the Civil Rights Era and, despite his age, maintains the hope and tenacity that defined that movement.
Celebrating five decades of his work, Philadelphia Contemporary is currently presenting an exhibition featuring nine artworks by Leroy Johnson, on view until April at the Fitler Club. As Nato Thompson, artistic director at Philadelphia Contemporary, says: "Leroy's work tells a story of Philadelphia that few other artists can. He is a one of a kind visionary."