After graduating, Johnson went to Paris, traveled throughout Europe and was exposed to new forms of artistic creations and artists. Upon his return to America, Johnson used a simple type of painting in conjunction with what was considered a “folk” style, using of vibrant colours and two-dimensional figures. He spent his closing 23 years of life in a mental hospital in Central Islip, Ny, where he died in 1970.
Johnson realized his fantasies to become an artist in a young age, reproducing cartoons in the paper as a youngster. Yet, as the earliest of the household ‘s five kids, who lived in a poor, segregated town in the South, Johnson tucked away his aspirations to become an artist, deeming them unrealistic.
But Johnson eventually left South Carolina in 1918, in the age of 17, to pursue his dreams in Nyc. There, he registered in the National Academy of Design and met Charles Webster Hawthorne, a well known artist who took Johnson under his wing. While Hawthorne understood Johnson’s gift, he understood that Johnson would possess a hard time shining as an African American artist in America, and thereby raised enough cash to send the young artist to Paris, France, upon his graduation in 1926. After arriving in Paris, William H. Johnson was exposed to a greater assortment of artwork and culture. Through Voll, Johnson met textile artist Holcha Krake, whom he’d eventually marry.
After several years in Paris, in 1930, Johnson ventured back to America having a newfound need to set up himself in the art picture of his home country. While his exceptional kind of art was valued when he returned to America, he was shocked by bias which he struck in his hometown. There, he was detained for painting on a nearby building that had become a brothel. Not long subsequent to the event, a defeated Johnson left South Carolina for Europe once again. When the two were not traveling to foreign places such as North Africa, Scandinavia, Tunisia and other parts of Europe for artistic inspiration, they remained in their quiet area of Kerteminde, Denmark.
Though they’d proceeded in order to avoid any clash with all the Nazis, William and Holcha still faced racism and discrimination as an interracial couple residing in America. The arty community of Harlem, Ny, which had become more educated and experimental following the Harlem Renaissance, adopted the couple, yet.
Around now, Johnson took a job as an art teacher in the Harlem Community Art Center, also continuing to make artwork in his time. Transitioning from expressionism to some simple type of art, or primitivism, Johnson’s work with this time shown more vivid colours and two dimensional things, and regularly contained depictions of African American life in Harlem, the South as well as the military.
While his paintings of African Americans in America started to get interest after they were showcased in exhibits through the early 1940s, the break of the brand new decade marked the start of a downward spiral for the artist. In 1941, a solo exhibit was held for Johnson at Alma Reed Galleries. The next year, a fire destroyed Johnson’s studio, leaving his art and supplies reduced to ashes. A couple of years later, in 1944, Johnson’s cherished wife of 14 years, Krake, died of breast cancer.
Following Krake’s departure, the already unhinged artist became emotionally and physically mentally ill. Though his head was begging to steal, Johnson still created art that will continue to be valued for a long time, including his “Fighters for Freedom” show, featuring paintings of renowned American leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Johnson went from one place to another in an effort to seek out relaxation and equilibrium after losing his wife, first traveling to his hometown of Florence, South Carolina, then to Harlem, and eventually to Denmark in 1946. The next year, however, Johnson was hospitalized in Norway due to his growing mental illness, due to syphilis. He died there in 1970, during his lengthy stay in the hospital.