Born in 1959, Larry Johnson hails from the iconic Middle American town of Lakewood, California—the one Joan Didion wrote about in 1993 for the New Yorker. Didion described a city on the cusp of economic and moral decline, with the maleficent might of mass culture partly at fault. This—the understated notoriety and cynicism that would invade Lakewood and much of the United States—has seeped into Johnson’s four-decade-long career. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at California Institute of the Arts and set about working, like many of his generation, within strategies of appropriation, using cartoon illustrations, logos, and letterheads as a way of channeling cultural tensions. This amalgam of ephemera mined from popular culture nods to languages of animation, graphic and commercial design, and advertising without capitulating to the feel-good rhetoric of consumerism. Image and text share space in Johnson’s work in ways that are cryptically critical as well as celebratory of the veneer and vices of Hollywood and, more broadly, Los Angeles. Everything—hustlers, Walt Disney, President Kennedy—creeps into Johnson’s tableaux, which are in step with his classless, Marxist sensibilities, rendering questions of high and low moot. Johnson has had solo exhibitions at Jenny’s (with Asha Schechter), Los Angeles (2019); Raven Row, London (2015); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2009); and Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver (1996). Other group exhibitions of note include those at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2019, 2009, 2004, 1996); Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva (2016); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1991); and Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989, 1985), among others.
Five billboards by Larry Johnson located throughout Los Angeles are co-produced by The Billboard Creative for Made in L.A. 2020: a version.