Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Allan “Zion” Johnson (Isaac Johnson, 1930-2001)

Allan “Zion” Johnson – Peacock (2001), Collection: NGJ, Gift of Herman van Asbroeck.


Allan ‘Zion” Johnson (birth name: Isaac Johnson) was born May 28th, 1930, St Andrew, Jamaica. At the age of 11 years, he went to Kingston Senior School, where he took some lessons in making furniture, which he started painting. Zion recounted what happened next:

I made a pushcart and decorated and painted it and wrote passages on it from the Bible. Soon other people asked me to make carts for them and that way I started to make a little money. I also made “Ludo” boards and painted and sold those too.

He decided to try painting and drawing in about 1965. He took a few lessons in painting at the University, helped by a friend, but soon gave that up. He started exhibiting regularly in 1980 and quickly gained recognition as a self-taught, Intuitive artist. He was featured in several major NGJ exhibitions, such as Fifteen Intuitives (1987) and Intuitives III (2006).

Zion lived and worked in August Town, near Kingston, where he had a small studio. He died in 2001 and was survived by his mother, Estella Gordon, who celebrated her 103rd birthday in that year. His mother passed away in 2003.

Allan “Zion” Johnson – Untitled (1992), Aaron & Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ


Drawing from his own life-world, Zion’s work consists mainly of cheerful, fanciful depictions of the Jamaican environment and popular religion and, occasionally, his imaginations about the rest of the world, in his “Moscow, USA” paintings. David Boxer, Chief Curator of the NGJ, in 1987 commented on his work:

Richly coloured and highly detailed, his works delight the eye with their fanciful cubistic citiscapes and with their askew perspectives and disproportionately scaled figures and animals […] always full of the jostling rhythms of life’s hustle and bustle.


Zion is a Zion Revivalist and feels his art must praise God – and so it is that every technical device, every formal invention […] operates towards this end, the creation of works that are forever bright, cheerful and above all, ecstatic.

Zion’s work is represented in the NGJ collection and several major collections of Intuitive art, such as the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection and the Herman van Asbroeck Collection.

Allan “Zion” Johnson – Giving Praise to the Lord (1986), Aaron & Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

(Information collated from the NGJ Education Department files)

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