Painter Lester Johnson has died

  • Updated: June 9, 2010 - 2:51 PM

The Minneapolis-born artist made his name in New York and teaching at Yale University.

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Lester Johnson in his studio in 1968.

Photo: Photo by John Schiff, Provided by David Klein Gallery

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Lester Johnson, an artist who was born in Minneapolis and became known in the New York art world of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, died in New York on May 30. He was 91.

Johnson, born in 1919, studed at the Minneapolis School of Art and later, at the St. Paul School of Art. He moved to New York in 1947, and had his first solo show there in 1951. At various times, he shared studio space with Larry Rivers and Philip Pearlstein. Johnson taught for many years in the art department of Yale University, retiring in 1989.

His paintings nearly always included the human figure -- men in hats, bathers, women in print dresses, urban crowds -- often rendered expressionistically.

Poet and art critic James Schuyler, reviewing a Johnson show in New York in 1958, wondered: "why are his new canvases so alive, why are they so unequivocally both New York School and, rare bird, Action-Painting with nameable subject matter?" Schuyler praised Johnson's work as "spectacular conceptions filled with nuance" and "a bold delight."

Johnson died at a nursing home in Westhampton, N.Y.

CLAUDE PECK

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