Size matters in Claudette Johnson’s paintings and drawings. The black bodies and faces she depicts are big, a good 30 percent larger than life. It’s a conscious conceptual choice she’s been making since the ’80s, alongside artists like Sonia Boyce and current Turner Prize nominee Lubaini Himid: her figures aren’t oversized to imply pride, dominance or confidence, they’re big as a statement of existence. She shows everyday figures, and their size is a proclamation. They’re saying we’re here, we’re real, we can’t be ignored, we exist. It’s such a simple political act.
There’s a lot of sadness in these faces. Only one of them looks directly at the viewer, the rest look away, distracted, unengaged. There’s heartbreak in the reclining woman, her body and dress an unfinished mountainous landscape. There’s a forelorn frustration in the woman in blue, her hands a knotted wreck of lines. The more time you spend with these characters the more real they become, as if the actual figures are with you, imposing their presence.
These aren’t dazzling examples of technical skill, and they're maybe not the greatest drawings and paintings you'll ever see, but they serve a simple, elegant, necessary purpose. In her quiet way, Claudette Johnson is saying something very important and she’s saying it very loudly.