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The Boston Globe

Theater & art


Aesthetic and social concerns of John Wilson

“Lynching,” a painting John Wilson made in Mexico in 1952, is a terrible, fluid image. At the center, a black man with a noose around his neck collapses, his body twisted. Enormous, faceless men in white robes stand behind him, gripping the rope and a bullwhip. It’s on view in the crisp, stirring exhibit “John Wilson: Mexico, 1950-1956” at Martha Richardson Fine Art.

Wilson, an African-American, had been making work about racial injustice for years. He had studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and worked in Fernand Léger’s studio in Paris, but he always aspired to go to Mexico and meet José Clemente Orozco, whose murals were powerful expressions of social activism. When he finally got there in 1950, Orozco had died, but Wilson found a community of African-American artists, including sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, who became his daughter’s godmother.

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