As an artist, LeRoi Johnson is inspired by all he encounters in the world around him. Describing his work as “electric primitive,” his vibrant compositions are internalized and abstracted reflections on personal experiences. With an international artistic presence, Johnson’s influences span across continents. Central to his work are bold, bright colors as well as African, Caribbean, and South American cultural influences depicting dreams, visions, African ancestry, and various otherworldly elements. As a close friend of internationally acclaimed Brazilian artist Abdias do Nascimento, the two shared an interest in African-influenced art and are considered pioneers of Buffalo, New York’s Afro-Brazilian school of art. Johnson’s work embraces a unique viewpoint based on his experience as a Black American. He engages with multiple perspectives of identity, social justice, and narrative, blurring the lines between the real and surreal.
Although Johnson’s artwork has been highlighted in group shows and art fairs internationally, LEROI: Living in Color reframes the attention given to Johnson in a global context through a localized and collaborative curatorial position as the artist’s first retrospective exhibition.
Fostering a spirit of connection-building and dialogue across communities, the exhibition incorporates an innovative partnership with other local organizations. Student participants in youth programs at The Buffalo Center for Art and Technology, Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center, Just Buffalo Literary Center, and the Buffalo Public Schools will engage with Johnson’s work to create responsive multimedia compositions that enhance and support the exhibition’s central themes. Through a series of culturally enriching experiences and engagements with the artist, the students will utilize Johnson’s work as a vessel to reflect on their own lived experiences and artistic interests. By energizing the next generation of artists, arts administrators, and art enthusiasts from passive viewers to active participants in shaping the exhibition, LEROI: Living in Color transforms the ways we think about exhibitions, collaboration, and community, further amplifying the agency of the viewer to color their own meaning and connections through art.