Frank Johnson: fame and fortune mattered little to an influential artist, devoted to his teaching

“I prefer living in colour” – David Hockney

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with two figures), 1972 acrylic on canvas, 84" x 120"

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with two figures), 1972
acrylic on canvas, 84″ x 120″

Afternoon everyone,

Whilst enjoying my weekend I stumbled upon an interesting documentary on BBC2 about David Hockney, one of the great British artists of his generation. It concerned his life and works- artistic styles and techniques, however only briefly touched on his background and beginnings; it is unfortunate that here at Fletcher Gate we do not have any of Hockney’s artwork.

However we are very proud to hold numerous pieces by his commercial design and anatomy tutor at Bradford Art College, Frank Johnson. Although Frank’s work is lesser known, you can’t deny his skill! 

"They're The Tops At Toppy's" Signed, Oil on Canvas Size: 35" x 40" - £3,750

“They’re The Tops At Toppy’s” Signed, Oil on Canvas
Size: 35″ x 40″ – £3,750

Frank Johnson was born in Leicester in 1917. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1953 and 1965, in local galleries and alongside David Hockney at an exhibition of Yorkshire Artists at the Museum of Modern Art in Skopje, Yugoslavia.

Frank Johnson was born into the generation that fought the Second World War – the young people of the 1960s could have been his sons and daughters – and yet the artist and teacher, fully immersed in the painting styles of the day, was an interesting and unique chronicler of the era. He also painted trains and train workers with details so specific they take on an almost documentary quality.

Today, though, his is not a name you’ll hear frequently mentioned and we are proud to present this rare collection of his work. Johnson’s work tells a story about a time of change and upheaval iconically capturing the era he lived in – an era where everything happened and he was a link to that. The most exciting thing about Johnson’s work is that the artist was unknown, but he taught and was a big influence on artists who became very well known.

A modest man, Frank Johnson’s true vocation was teaching. He joined the Bradford Art College in 1952 where he taught David Hockney in Commercial Design and Anatomy. His life drawing classes were notoriously impromptu, with students and work colleagues being asked to sit for him at their break times.

Dudley Edwards one of Frank’s former pupils said of the artist “Frank Johnson, was the biggest influence on all of us and very inspirational. Unlike some lecturers who had hung up their brushes to teach, he was a practising artist who painted in front of us in the studio. Lots of the best art students did graphics because they didn’t have the necessary 5 ‘O’ Levels to do fine art. Myself, Doug Binder, John Loker, Norman Stevens, David Vaughan and David Oxtoby – we were all frustrated fine artists looking with envy into the fine art department. ” “I vividly remember the Art School (then in the building that is now Grove Library) had an amazing smell of paint and linseed oil soaked into the floorboards which gave it a lovely atmosphere. There was a kind of excitement in the air, partly a carry over from Hockney, who was then making a name for himself in the art world. It was the place to be”.

Signed Oil on Canvas - Size: 28" x 36" - £3,750

“Manningham Interior” Signed Oil on Canvas –
Size: 28″ x 36″ – £3,750

Frank Johnson gave David Hockney great encouragement at Bradford, supporting his transfer from the commercial art course to the painting course. An incredibly versatile artist, Johnson’s natural style combines the ‘Kitchen Sink School’ with the ‘Euston Road School,’ but there are also influences of French school artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard.

A retrospective was held in 1983 in Bradford curated by one of his former pupils, Frank Johnson died in 1998 at the age of 81.

We have an entire collection of Frank Johnson’s work here at The Fletcher Gate Fine Art Gallery, and personally we can definitely see his influences in Hockneys own work! I love how Johnson contrasts accurate detail with loose brushwork in his his paintings to portray depth, alternatively a few of his works seem to pay homage to pointillism- truly showing his versatility as an artist! The colour pallets used in all of his work are very distinctive, enhancing the layouts of his work to suggest there is a real story going on.

Despite this, his work has not had the recognition it deserves in recent times although it has increased in prominence of late. In general however, that seems to be in keeping with how he lived his own life. He seemed unconcerned with how well his own works did. He was devoted to teaching. It wasn’t about selling art at the time.

What do you think? 

All the best,


“The Couple” Signed, Original Oil on Board -  Size: 28” x 36” - £950

“The Couple” Signed, Original Oil on Board –
Size: 28” x 36” – £950

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