Lester Johnson, "Parc Messina #4," 1992, oil on canvas
Lester Johnson, "Blue Man," 1965, oil on canvas, 44 x 40"
From the NY Times obituary by William Grimes:
Lester Johnson, an admired artist whose expressionist brushwork lent vigor and force to the human figure — isolated and embattled, or alive with the joy of movement in crowds — died on May 30. He was 91 and lived in Southampton on Long Island. His death, at a nursing home in Westhampton, N.Y., was confirmed by his son, Anthony.
Mr. Johnson, a maverick associate of the Abstract Expressionists in New York, found his subject matter in the joys and sorrows of ordinary people on the street. His boxy figures of the 1960s, somberly painted in thick impasto, their features often scratched into the surface, faced the viewer squarely with an air of stoicism or grim defiance.
Some were self-portraits. Others, like “Bowery Patriarch” (1963) and “Three Men Sitting” (1969), enlisted the stumbling, broken men he saw on the Bowery from his second-floor studio window....
He became the only figurative artist voted into the Eighth Street Club, the famous weekly gathering of the Abstract Expressionists. They regarded him as talented but misguided. He regarded drips and gestural brushstrokes as an avant-garde signature that could easily descend into empty cliché.
“I was into human content and I used it, and I found it a very, very exciting thing to do,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview in 1988. “I did a lot of paintings at the time where you can hardly see the figure, but it’s there.”
In 1964, Jack Tworkov, the chairman of the graduate art department at Yale, recommended Mr. Johnson for a job. He taught figure drawing at Yale until his retirement in 1989, and from 1969 to 1974 was the director of studies for the graduate painting program.
The James Goodman Gallery in Manhattan surveyed his work in 2004 in the exhibition “Lester Johnson: Four Decades of Painting.” In 2005, the University of Connecticut in Storrs mounted a 50-year retrospective of his work, “People Passing By: Paintings, Drawings and Prints by Lester Johnson,” at the William Benton Museum of Art.