In Memoriam: Leroy Johnson, Mixed-Media Artist and Pew Fellow

19 Jul 2022


Leroy Johnson, 2014 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Pew Fellow Leroy Johnson passed away on July 8, 2022, at the age of 85.

A mixed-media artist, Johnson incorporated painting, collage, and assemblage sculpture techniques into his work, inspired by Black history and his own life in Philadelphia. In a WHYY obituary, Peter Crimmins writes, “He had what might be called a maximalist style: he used anything and everything in his works, including cardboard, scraps of fabric, bits of metal, and watch parts. His studio was littered with seemingly random debris, all waiting to become pregnant with meaning.”

Johnson’s work has been exhibited widely, with solo shows at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, Tirza Yalon Kolton Ceramic Gallery (Tel Aviv), Gloucester County College (Sewell, NJ), and the Camden County Historical Society. In 2019, Johnson held a three-month residency at The Barnes Foundation, working in a windowed “fishbowl” studio outside the museum. He told WHYY then, “I want history to see me as an artist who had something to say, and saying it in an elegant way. Like Thelonious Monk, playing my own notes.”

In addition to his Pew Fellowship, Johnson received grants from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Independence Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

The Clay Studio, where Johnson was a resident artist from 1995 to 2001, remembers Johnson in an Instagram post, observing, “his paintings and ceramics had layers and layers of visual, historical, conceptual, and emotional content.”

As a resident artist and an instructor at the Clay Studio, Johnson befriended fellow artist and Pew Fellow Candy Coated. In a Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, she remembers Johnson as “a real magical guy that helped a lot of people because he was able to relate to them. Just a friendly, friendly person, an excellent artist, a voracious reader. He kept working every day even up to while he was in hospice care.”

Johnson is considered a self-taught artist, though he took art classes at Fleisher Art Memorial and the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). He earned a master’s degree in human services from Lincoln University.