Jack Johnson

Raymond Saunders

Jack Johnson


Raymond Saunders (b. 1934)




Oil on canvas


83 5/8 x 65 in. (212.4075 x 165.1 cm.)

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Funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Academy Women's Committee, and an Anonymous Donor


Raymond Saunders has had a career-long fascination with graffiti, amateur signage, and the storefront church facades found in many urban communities across America. His juxtaposition of images, objects, and words using bright colors and collaged materials projects a sense of immediacy that encourages viewers to connect their everyday experiences with those of others. By extension, Saunders aims to confront the stereotypes found in contemporary culture and reinforce the point that America is a pluralistic and multiracial country.

This painting depicts Arthur John “Jack” Johnson (1878-1946), the son of a former slave who in 1908 became the first African-American boxer to win the Heavyweight Champion of the World title. Renowned for his personal charisma and his willingness to challenge racial stereotypes, Johnson retired from boxing and subsequently achieved fame as a jazz musician. Although Johnson faced virulent bigotry throughout his career, for Saunders Johnson served as an icon of African-American success and perseverance in the face of adversity. By incorporating the figure into an otherwise abstract field of colors, Saunders addressed contemporary artistic concerns as well as questions of racial identity.