Harper’s is pleased to announce The Love of Men and the Fear of Stones, Chicago-based artist Leasho Johnson’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. Featuring a series of six new works at Harper’s Chelsea 534, this presentation highlights Johnson’s expressive approach toward figurative painting. The Love of Men and the Fear of Stones opens on Thursday, December 8, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Borrowing the exhibition title from a stanza in “The Broken (II)” by Jamaican writer Kei Miller—“I would write about the love / of men and the fear of stones / which in my country is the same thing”—Johnson references the vulnerability he felt while growing up queer in a small town on the island. When fear and love are “the same thing,” it complicates the capacity to develop intimate bonds with others, raising a host of philosophical questions that Johnson seeks to address in his work. Stones have also become known as weapons used against LGBTQ+ people across the globe, including in Jamaica. In response to these issues, Johnson creates figurative paintings that express feelings of anxiety and dissociation in his evocative characters.
Using portraiture as a point of departure, Johnson abstracts his painterly subjects, omitting facial features and distinguishing characteristics. These silhouetted bodies, rendered in charcoal black, tensely pose in an environment that is dissipating around them—perhaps frozen in fear, disaffection, mourning, or contemplation. In paintings such as Paradise has its price (Anansi #20) and Reading beyond the tragic, figure and ground are nearly indistinguishable, visually disrupting the self/environment dualism as the compositional elements simultaneously fragment and bleed into each other. Has it always been that big? and Keen to do harm and take revenge rightly are arranged in a more straightforward manner, portraying clearly delineated figures in placeless settings as they directly confront the viewer.
Johnson executes his compositions on paper surfaces mounted to canvas substrates with an array of media, including handmade dyes and gold foil as well as nontraditional materials like curry powder and plasticware. Engaging with such fragile and ephemeral media elicits metaphorical connections between the artist’s formal decisions and the subject matter he presents, channeling intimate and emotive aspects of his biographical narrative into the work. While the stories behind each of Johnson’s psychologically charged scenes remain open-ended, the exhibition elicits an ominous presence that haunts each picture.
Leasho Johnson (b. 1984, Montego Bay, Jamaica) received a BFA from Edna Manley College in 2009, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020. In fall 2022, Johnson was an artist-in-residence at Fountainhead, Miami. Most recently, his work has been exhibited at TERN Gallery, Nassau (2022 and 2021); Harper’s, Los Angeles and East Hampton (2021); FLXST Contemporary, Chicago (2021 and 2020); Suzie Wong Presents, Kingston (2021 and 2018); National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston (2020, 2017, 2016, 2014, 2012, and 2010); The Green Gallery, Milwaukee (2020); and National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Nassau (2017). Reviews of Johnson’s work have appeared in The Miami Rail, Fader, and Caribbean Beat, among other publications. Johnson lives and works in Chicago.