Portrait of an Artist

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Leasho Johnson has two things most every artist dreams of: to sell work before he even creates it, and a family that didn’t want him to be anything else.

This Kingston-based, soft-spoken 27-year old grew up in rural Sheffield, inland from Negril and a long drive from the big city. When Leasho finished high school early at 15, his father gave him an assignment: “I had to wake up at 5am to learn stonewalling and welding from him—or I could do three watercolors a day. Daddy said I don’t ever have to be broke if I stick with my art.”

Leasho’s father evolved his own career from fine art to construction after a vandal burned his work. Leasho says, “He ended up employing all my friends in construction—because out of five guys, I was the only one to really have a father.”

This theme of manhood continually makes its way onto Leasho’s canvasses. Inside his studio apartment are several large and bold paintings in progress, featuring guys in dancehall fashion, juxtaposed with animals: “Dancehall is a refuge for a lot of guys. The sexuality comes out so fast and loud it’s almost animalistic. I try to touch a part of Jamaican society that people ignore, where in the same space is right and wrong.”

These paintings have been purchased and commissioned by everyone from a prominent local judge to the well-awarded Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter. But Leasho still has a day job—and one that makes sense. Aside from the streets, he finds inspiration in cartoons, and in his work at Generousitas (a small, powerhouse design shop opened by an American expat) Leasho’s illustrations are often animated for audiences far beyond the island.

Today, he’s busy prepping his entry for the Super+ Under 40 art competition that comes with a prize of 100K Jamaican dollars and a solo exhibition in Kingston—which would be his first. “I just want to do things people don’t normally see on a gallery wall, because a canvas is a big place to say something.” To di world, indeed.

 

Digging Jamaica? Visit the 100m Shop and get your jerk-reggae-patois-sunshine fix. (Sunscreen recommended.)