The Wisdom Man

4 March - 6 April 2023


 “Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon.” Linton Kwesi Johnson


Paul Stolper is pleased to announce 'The Wisdom Man', a group show that acknowledges Linton Kwesi Johnson as a pivotal and influential figure in contemporary poetry and culture. Born in 1952 in Chapelton, Jamaica he came to London in 1963.  At school he joined the Black Panthers, and helped to organise a poetry workshop within the movement and developed his work with ‘Rasta Love’, a group of poets and drummers.  Johnson’s poems first appeared in the journal Race Today who in 1974 published his first collection of poetry, ‘Voices of the Living and the Dead’. ‘Dread Beat An’ Blood’, his second collection, was published in 1975 by Bogle-L’Ouverture and was the title of his first LP.  That year also saw the release of the film ‘Dread Beat An’ Blood’, a documentary on Johnson’s work. In 1980 Race Today published his third book, ‘Inglan Is A Bitch’.  There were four more albums on the Island label: ‘Forces of Victory’ 1979, ‘Bass Culture’ 1980, ‘LKJ in Dub’ 1981 and ‘Making History’ 1984.  


“His appeared to be a poetry of inclusion, popular and broad based in the best sense of the terms, speaking a truth that cut across race and cultural differences in a form that people from a variety of backgrounds found irresistible”.  Fred D’Aguiar 2001 Linton Kwesi Johnson Selected Poems


 The exhibition includes artists from several generations; a watercolour portrait and print by Pop artist Peter Blake, who saw Kwesi Johnson 7 nights in a row supporting Ian Drury in 1979.  Artist and musician Rod Melvin’s ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson II’ 2023 is one from a series of knitted yarn portraits; his Peter Blake and Grayson Perry were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Show in 2018 and ‘Unsung Hero – The Teacher’ in 2021 (incidentally Melvin joined Ian Drury’s band ‘Kilburn and the High Roads’, writing with Ian ‘England's Glory’ recorded by Max Wall and ‘What a waste’).  Petra Börner’s portrait collage of Kwesi Johnson was used as the cover for Penguin Books 2006 ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson – Selected Poems’, and shows the poet repeated in profile holding a megaphone, while Lorena Levi’s portrait of Kwesi Johnson ‘A Top Notch Poet’ is an example of a new generation drawn to his writings and poetry.  


‘The Lesson’ 1972, ‘Bust of Linton Kwesi Johnson’ 2006 and the seminal painting ‘The Domino Players’ 1986 are by Errol Lloyd, a London based Jamaican-born artist, writer, art critic, editor and arts administrator, who originally studied law,  joined the Caribbean Artists Movement at its inception in 1966, and for some years had an association with the Minorities' Arts Advisory Service (MAAS), and was Art Editor for their inter-cultural magazine, Artrage.  Three etchings by Denzil Forrester, ‘Wicked Willows’, ‘Moon’ both 1983 and ‘Domino Hunters’ 2018, document DJ’s, a favourite was Jah Shaka, sound systems and dancehalls from the perspective of the audience, a subject so rarely seen in contemporary art.  


There is a cinematic quality to Ray Richardson’s ‘Westside Social’ 1999, “I am trying to tell little stories and vignettes from life”.   From the same period Said Adrus’ ‘Zeitgeist’ screenpint 1981-2022 and ‘Punk Riot’ etching 1981 address a range of social and historical tensions such as displacement, estrangement, racism, while Chila Kumari Burman’s ‘Gas Mask’ 1981, etching, aquatint and screenprint on paper, highlights the tensions generated by the combination and overlaying of differing printing techniques which embody the violence embedded within the subject matter of the work, echoing the theme of conflict.  Cedar Lewisohn’s woodblock prints both delicate and brutal, use imagery taken from African and Mesopotamian civilisations, mixing them with meditations on contemporary youth culture in the UK Tower blocks sit alongside masonic imagery, Egyptian hieroglyphics and archaic figures lifted from the looted Benin Bronzes located in British museums.  Derrick Alexis Coard’s three portraits, incorporate beautiful poetic titles, one of which ‘The Wisdom Man’ 2011 is the title of the exhibition. “My art is my voice for the human race”.  Coard is an artist much championed by Matthew Higgs at White Columns, NY, who writes “Coard’s deeply empathetic work, explores the complex questions of race, spirituality, sexuality, and identity”


 “Let us sing and dance to the expression of the age-old ideals with LKJ, their principal exponent in poetry as song, poetry as public address, poetry as memory, poetry as chant, spell, mantra, prayer, agenda, list of priorities, sounding board, sauciness, curse, elegy, melody, summons, soul, funk, liturgy, conscience, guttural poetry, hymnal poetry, poetry that declaims, proclaims and inflames, poetry as agitation and cogitation”  Fred D’Aguiar 2001 Linton Kwesi Johnson Selected Poems