Clay Johnson - portrait

Clay Johnson

United States 1963

Abstract Art

Clay Johnson
Clay Johnson
United States
October 27, 2018
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Clay Johnson is an American abstract painter whose reductivist compositions explore the relationships between color, form, and texture. Johnson earned his B.A. in studio art and art history from Duke University in 1985. Afterwards, he worked as studio manager for the painter Robert Natkin. Says Johnson, Most of what I know about painting I learned from Bob.

Clay Johnson - The Standing
Clay Johnson – The Standing, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 152.4 X 121.9


Johnson has said he does not believe in inspiration. Instead, he believes in evolution. He is motivated by process. Rather than being planned ahead of time, the work emerges through a series of critical responses to previous decisions. He begins each painting by taping off one or more horizon lines. His initial color choice then guides the composition forward. Certain elements—a color, a line, a texture—are destroyed, while other elements incite unimagined… His intuition is guided by visceral reactions to the physical qualities of paint, the quest for pictorial balance, and the emergence of abstract relationships. The most important part of this process is editing. As Johnson says,

that narrative—the story of the painting’s own making—becomes the central subject. It’s this process of trial and error— the flawed execution of a perfect concept—that can make a few lines and rectangles so compelling.

Clay Johnson - The Parisian
Clay Johnson – The Parisian, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 152.4 X 121.9

Relevant Quotes

Reviewing new paintings by Johnson in 2016, artist Camellia El-Antably wrote,

Layers of translucent acrylics build up a surface reminiscent of vintage and peeling paint…the colors are in sharply defined rows which bleed into each other without blurring the lines. The viewer may see horizon lines, or landscapes, or fields of color in harmony, or perhaps the sense of layers of dreams barely visible.

Clay Johnson - Lying Dutchman
Clay Johnson – Lying Dutchman #3, 2017. Acrylic on wood panel. 91.4 X 91.4


Johnson has exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States. His work is in the collections of the Kimpton Corporation and the University of Wyoming Art Museum, among others.

He lives and works in Laramie, Wyoming.

Featured image: Clay Johnson – portrait
All images courtesy IdeelArt and Clay Johnson