Leasho Johnson is a graphic designer, painter and fashion designer. His exhibition is curated by Veerle Poupeye.
My work is inspired by various graffiti and graphic art styles, which I interpret within the context of my own environment. Being trained by my father in the traditional methods of painting and drawing, I have fused these traditional methods with my love for cartoons to create art that I consider to be more relevant to me as a young person than the kind I was trained to create. I believe cartoon illustrations are capable of reinterpreting controversial subjects such as religion or even homosexuality into a source of amusement, which provides me with an opportunity to express my interpretations of my immediate environment and my experiences as a Jamaican. I also believe cartoons reinterpret reality in another manner that reality itself cannot express; they are less threatening towards sensitive human emotions (anger, fear, hate) because they are not considered to represent reality. Ironically, using cartoons allows me to reintroduce and address the realities behind them.
The installation The Product is a miniature “city” that is made up of greed, identity crises, sexual frustrations and commercial enslavement. The triptych Territorial Fad makes you laugh because you know that the best way to deal with your own flaws is to embrace them and to laugh along with those laughing at you. How can we hate what we see around us, yet never fail to become a part of it? Goats were made to be goats, dogs were made to be dogs and well, ‘sketels’ were made to be …
I was born in Montego Bay, St. James, on December 5, 1984. My mother was a beautiful “country girl” and my father was an aspiring young artist, fueled by dreams to become a great artist like his idols from the Impressionist Era. He eventually had to give up these dreams because of his family obligations, one of them being me entering the world. I am however the product of that dream: I live the dreams of my father and have added to this my own.
I grew up in Sheffield, Westmoreland with both parents and in my father’s studio. I created my first paintings at the age of four and always had a sketchpad since attending Sheffield All-Age School. I attended Green Island High in 1996 and my library of sketchpads grew, my reputation for drawings well made me popular and my contribution in various arts-associated clubs earned me many several trophies ranging from poster design to more complex art competitions. After graduating from high school in 2000 I spent three years sharpening my skills in figure and portrait drawing and painting in various mediums under the guidance of my ever-supportive father.
Attending Edna Manley College just felt like the right decision. I however wanted nothing to do with what I already knew from my painting practice, so I embarked on studying graphic design. During the course of my development there, I realized my innate ability to design both 3-dimensionally and 2-dimensionally and I fell in love with fashion design. I am particularly fascinated with how fashion shapes the image of the woman herself, within the constraints of the economy and her ethnicity. Design for me, meant I could physically affect my environment and this opened a door for me, an avenue that fine art cannot reach.
My fine art practice however provides me with a much-needed mental oasis in the sea of logic and visual regurgitation and my ongoing relationship with it has led me into several exhibitions. One of my most significant to date was the Rockstone and Bootheel exhibition of contemporary West Indian art at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut in 2009.
As a young artist I believe my purpose in this world was decided long before I was conceived. My role is to continue and expand the art world that was laid before me by my artistic forebears and I hope to lay a new foundation for the generation still on the drawing board.
– Leasho Johnson
Leasho Johnson is, to me, one of the most compelling and original talents to emerge from the Edna Manley College in recent years. Already as a student at the Edna Manley College, he crossed all conventional disciplinary boundaries and moved effortlessly between the visual communication, painting, ceramics, and textiles departments, producing outstanding work in the process. While his work is essentially interdisciplinary, Leasho allows different artistic voices to come to the fore in each medium. The selection for this exhibition deliberately brings into dialogue two contrasting voices in his work, which represent the two extremes of his aesthetic range and illustrate his formal and technical inventiveness: the pristine, formalist sculptural quality of his fashion designs, which are quite at home in the world of international couture, and the riotous cartoon and graffiti aesthetic of his paintings, ceramics and three-dimensional constructions, which draw their inspiration and energies from street and youth culture and mercilessly lampoon life in contemporary Jamaica.
– Veerle Poupeye