Six Black Paintings

BLM#1, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #1 (For Melvin Perry)

“The complexity and subtlety that exists within the range of color that we commonly refer to as ‘black’ is both astounding and infinitely fascinating. With its depth and density, black is capable of communicating a unique authority, but is at the same time very delicate. There is a vast spectrum there, within what we often think of as a single color.”

BLM#2, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #2 (For Reggie Miller)

This exhibition is the product of three separate forces coming together.

  1. My longstanding love for the “black paintings” of Joan Mitchell, created in 1964 and exhibited that same year at the Robert Miller Gallery in a show entitled My Black Paintings
  2. My increasing interest in the use of black, and other nearly black hues, in my own work
  3. A desire to support (in a very small way) those who are fighting daily for the cause of racial justice

In the last year I’ve become more and more interested in utilizing a darker palette. The black (or nearly black) areas of my larger paintings have been the areas that I’ve found the most compelling. Since the corona virus took hold, I’ve been inclined to work on a smaller scale, and on paper, and that seemed like a good opportunity to explore these recent thoughts about color.


The six paintings in this exhibition are acrylic on paper, 16″ x 20,” and are available at a reduced price of $500 each. All proceeds go to Black Lives Matter.

BLM#3, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #3 (For Kim Jordan)

BLM#4, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #4 (For Rod Judd)

The title of Joan Mitchell’s 1964 exhibition came from her reference to the works as “my black paintings—although there’s no black in any of them.” Those paintings were created following the death of Mitchell’s father and during her mother’s battle with cancer, and the palette is considered to be reflective of those events. But to me they are simply her most beautiful paintings.

I don’t think of dark pictures as sombre or morose. I think there is a seriousness about these six works, and in dark paintings in general, but I personally don’t view that as positive or negative. For me, at this particular time, this is just a palette that makes sense. The idea is not to make paintings that are entirely (or even mostly) black, but to make paintings whose palettes, personalities, and impact are deeply affected by the presence of black and other very dark tones.

BLM#5, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #5 (For Tricia Townes)

BLM#6, 2020, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20" by Clay Johnson

BLM #6 (For Bobby Young)

Growing up in Durham, North Carolina many years ago, I had the invaluable experience of attending schools (from first grade through high school) where 80-90% of the students were black. Entering school at six years old, I knew nothing about the history of race relations in the United States, but I soon knew a lot of black kids. We were just a bunch of young kids relating to each other as people. And we happened to not all have the same skin color. These six paintings are dedicated to some of the friends I met in those first couple of years, and some I met later, all of whom I remember fondly.

In May of this year, the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited a global demand for racial justice in America. While it seems absurd that such justice is not something that we can take for granted two decades into the 21st century, clearly it isn’t. Of course, George Floyd was not the first—nor the last—black person to experience violence from a justice system in which the cards were stacked against him. Trayvon Martin, Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown…these are just the names that everyone knows. The full list is a mile long. And even since the time of Floyd’s death, there have been more incidents, including a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back at point blank range. In the past, some of these events have sparked outrage and protest, but little has changed. This time it feels like it could be different. This time demands for reform have been more urgent and more numerous, but as our never-ending news cycle continues churning, there is the danger that public attention could move on to the fires on our west coast, the upcoming election, developments related to Covid-19, or the latest absurdity from our president, and once again the status quo could be maintained. This exhibition offers a chance to help the Black Lives Matter movement persist and succeed.

Have a question?