II

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

William H. Johnson

I Baptize Thee (study) , n.d.

Watercolor on paper

8" x 8"


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I Baptize Thee

Johnson used a "primitivist" style to encapsulate African American experiences of religious, genre, and military scenes. The term was not meant pejoratively. To Johnson it symbolized a culture and style that were closer to nature and art. A vibrantly contrasting palette, exaggerated figures, simplified landscape, and the use of heavy black outlining reveal his exposure to the Japanese woodblock prints that so influenced European Modernism. In I Baptize Thee (study), the setting for the baptism of an African American youth is a sparse outdoor landscape. The flatness of the figures and the landscape create a sensitive, scaled-down depiction of religious involvement in the everyday life of African Americans. While many artists of the time period were focusing on more urban or Africanized subject matter, Johnson looked to his native South Carolina for inspiration for his examination of the intimate gatherings of rural African Americans.   K. A. K.

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