“I paint for me, the things that have gone on in my life, I like to paint stories that I may be thinking about or things that I see. And Sometimes the things aren’t really there but I will paint it anyway. Sometimes I paint historical idea but I like to make it about my life.”
Contemporary artist LeRoi Johnson has seen it all. Not just as an artist, but as a lawyer, and also as his brother funk legend, Rick James' manager. His art is a reflection of what he has experienced through his varied life, with a primitive twist. He paints electric colored historical figures juxtaposed with a contemporary influence.
His work draws inspiration from modern influences of Picasso, Dali, Jacob Lawrence and Pippin all the way back to the ancient artists of cave drawings, works from the ‘nameless primitives.’
“The nameless primitives are famous because their work has lasted tens of thousands of years. No one knows their name, it’s just based on the work. You know why too by just the rawness of them and to think about how they did their work,” he said. “Each group represents something else, classic, contemporary artists represent freedom. Unrestricted. Each one of them tells me what you can do as an artist.”
His story on how he got into art is an unusual one. As a young kid, LeRoi was seriously injured in a bus accident. Not being able to attend school due to his injuries. He was stuck at home and the two things he took to were drawing and reading and he never stopped either.
“I was bedridden for a number of years and the only thing I could really do was study or draw. And I did a lot of drawing, and a lot of painting,” he said. “That was really the only thing I did, draw and then study. I did that every day until I was about thirteen. In the end, it sounds a lot worse than it was because I was able to focus on art and school, which I probably would not have been able to do.”
After a year at a technical high school where he studied Industrial Design, LeRoi left to a regular high school. It wasn’t until his senior year in college where he switched back to studying Urban Design where we learned the structural side of creating. From then on, LeRoi would live a life of many paths. “I just got used to doing multiple things. I was doing a lot of traveling in the early eighties when I was managing my brother so I wasn’t able to actually make the art I wanted to. I just didn’t have the time. But I went to about every city in the states and all over Europe and when I did I would go to all the galleries and museums in each. So I didn’t lose anything, I actually gained a lot.”
LeRoi’s journey has brought him across the globe, experiencing art in all communities. His excitement for being apart of Superfine! resembles that.“I am excited for this new community of people to see my work and see something different and also be able to show with all of these younger artists and have my work be all the wall along theirs.”
Superfine! NYC open May 2nd and runs through the 6th.