III

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

William H. Johnson

Children Playing London Bridge, c. 1942

Watercolor on paper

12" x 10.5"


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Children Playing London Bridge

With the threat of war looming over Europe in the late 1930s, black American expatriate William H. Johnson, a prolific artist whose style had been greatly influenced by European Expressionism, returned to the United States. Upon his return to America in 1938, Johnson entered into a new stylistic phase typified by bright colors and simplified, heavily outlined forms, an approach that would be the hallmark of his work until he stopped painting in 1946. In addition to stylistic developments, Johnson's focus shifted to characterizations of black life, both rural and urban, and to the depiction of religious themes using black figures.

Johnson's self-ascribed "primitivism" was explored through his depictions of African American everyday life and rooted in his childhood memories of South Carolina. Children Playing London Bridge is a cartoon-like depiction of children at imaginative play. It is a heavy composition of thin, blocky figures playing amongst each other through the rhythmic interweaving of each figure's arms.   K. A. K.

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