First published: Spring 2014
Johnson Weree (b. 1970 in Liberia) draws every single day, from early morning until late at night– usually heads of middle-aged men and women (very occasionally with a child’s head in front of their chests), and sometimes trucks and SUVs. He draws them in “mixed media” – specifically, ballpoint pens in various colours, gel pens, pencils, crayons or pastels. His works are colourful, attractive and inviting, but at the same time mysterious, and they demand a closer look.
The portraits are busts of staring men and women. Short, deep-coloured dark hair drawn in three layers of ballpoint: red, blue and black. Small, expressionless eyes with sharply defined pupils in the shimmering whites of the eyes, a dog’s nose with black nostrils at the end of a long-bridged nose, an abnormally wide mouth with compressed lips. The staring pupils are like flamed glass marbles, in two, sometimes three colours. The women are decorated with red blushes or painted beauty spots. The hair is well styled, combed with a wide parting, sometimes with loose locks ending in graceful curls. The men all have receding hairlines, and their Afro-textured hair is also tightly combed. The most recent male drawings have geometrically structured faces, with lozenge- or almond-shaped eyes, trapezium-shaped snouts, elliptical or oval mouths. Using straight and curved chalk lines, the face is shaped into a cubistically angular spatial form, sometimes in bright colours.
The heads are never viewed from below or the side but always face-on, as if you are looking at yourself in a mirror. The drawings are somewhat childlike: the heads very large and wide in relation to the shoulders and the body, at least twice the natural size. The eyes are placed high in the face and far apart, with small pupils in the bright whites of the eyes, the mouths too wide and no trace of ears.
There is an amazing contrast between the depth and layered structure of the faces and the flatness of the busts, armless like busts of Beethoven on a piano, but painted. The decorative bodies are attached to the heads without a neck. Any thick necks are hidden behind the mandarin collars – or rather, behind the paper-flat costume made up of a large number of patches of colour, which are filled in with light and dark gel pen and dark ballpoint squiggles. Instead of the bust being drawn right down to the edge of the paper, a blank margin is left for the signature and year.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #81