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 Buffie Johnson  (1912 - 2006)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: portrait, abstract, realist floral painting

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Ad Code: 3
Buffie Johnson
from Auction House Records.
Equinox II
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City on February 20th, 1912, Buffie Johnson studied at the Art Students League of New York and at the Academy Julian and S. W. Hayter Atelier in Paris, where she also studied privately with Francis Picabia.  She earned a B.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles.  From 1946-1950, she was an instructor at the Parsons School of Design.  Johnson is known for huge paintings, "single image frontal plant forms" of orchids, irises and tulips, seed pods and fruits, intended to symbolize the "Lady of the Plants." 

In New York in the 1940s, and in the 1950s in East Hampton and New York, Buffie Johnson exhibited with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Robert Motherwell, among others.  In  the 1950s, she took frequent trips to Europe, where she lectured for the U.S. State Department, exhibited in Paris, and collected images for a proposed book on the Great Goddess and Her Sacred Animals.  She also exhibited at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, and in 1959 completed the world's largest abstract mural for the Astor Theatre in New York City.

In 1968 Johnson began painting her monumental plant images, moving completely away from  her abstract expressionist style to that of realism.  Representing the sexual as well as the sacred, her plants and flowers become metaphors for life and fertility.

Buffie Johnson moved from East Hampton, Long Island, back to New York City in 1966, where she resided until her death on August 11th, 2006.

Some Exhibitions:
Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century, NYC/"Exhibition by 31 Women"
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
New York Cultural Center, NYC/"Women choose Women"
Whitney Museum of American Art/Biennial/Numerous others
Chuck Levitan Gallery, NYC:/ "Buffie Johnson: The Spirit of Plants" (Parts I/ II)
The Institute for Contemporary Art, P. S. 1 Museum, Long Island City/Solo

Art Students League of New York-Student
University of California, Los Angeles-Student
Academie Julian-Student
S. W. Hayter Atelier 17-Student
University of California, Los Angeles-Student Teacher
Parsons School of Design-Teacher

Museum Collections:
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY      
The National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Israel Museum. Jerusalem
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Baltimore Museum, MD
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
Tangier Museum, Tangier
Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art
Walker Art Center, MN
The Newark Museum, NJ
Guild Hall of East Hampton, NY
The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY
Fine Arts Museum of Cincinnati, OH
New Orleans Museum of Art, LA
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
Yale University Art Gallery, CT
Rhode Island School of Design Museum, RI
New York University Art Collection, Grey Art Gallery, NY
Huntington Art Gallery at University of Texas at Austin, TX
University of Michigan Museum, MI
University of New Mexico Art Museum, NM
Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, NY
The Neuberger Museum of Art at the State University of New York at Purchase, NY
University of Illinois, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Urbana, IL
Fine Arts Museum of the Women's Interart Center at Caldwell College, Caldwell, NJ

Sources include:
AskART files
The artist's Archives courtesy of Jenny Johnson Sykes, Tracy Boyd;
Alexandra de Lallier, "Buffie Johnson: Icons and Altarpieces to the Goddess," from interviews with the artist published by Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring-Summer, 1982, pp. 29-34.
From the web: courtesy of Jenny Johnson Sykes and Tracy Boyd; Anita Shapolsky Gallery obituary.

Biography from Anita Shapolsky Gallery:
Buffie Johnson's canvases are witness to her creative process from the world's largest abstract mural in the Astor Theatre in the late 50s, to her gestural paintings of the 60s, her monumental plant images of the 70s and 80s, and then her numbering series of the 90s that explores "the power that arises from zero."  Each painting retained her expressionist energy, brushstrokes, and texture.

During a turbulent childhood, Buffie Johnson was shuffled between parents, sent to a convent, and finally ended up with relatives in Massachusetts.  At age eight she began painting her Spirits Of series.  The spirits included the sun, moon, winds, earth, sky, and stars.  The Cosmic Goddess and the cyclical nature of life would become a theme and influence on her work throughout her life.

She began regular studies, which included courses in art in the 1920s.  In the 30s, she traveled to Paris to study with Francis Picabia and Stanley William Hayter.  Buffie's friends in the early 1940s included Tony Smith, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. During the height of Abstract Expressionism her circle also involved Lee Krasner, Willem DeKooning, and Robert Motherwell.  By the 1950s, when "you paint like a man" was the biggest compliment a woman could receive, Buffie felt she was surrounded by an anti-female energy from the other artists.

Always striving to represent divine female power even when met with resistance and discouragement, Buffie Johnson herself embodies that very power.  An extraordinary woman, who has lived her entire life producing and celebrating art, Buffie has blazed a trail for artists and women alike.  After nearly a century, the wisdom and body of work that Buffie offers is unparalleled in quality and spiritual intensity.

"American Transcendentalists are both singular and few, and it is among the few, and at a well defined spiritual distance from other artists of her generation, that Buffie Johnson lives." -Horace Gregory

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