When Professor Stuart Hall said in a talk that black artists of her generation would astound audiences, it made painter Claudette Johnson feel “valued, validated and seen”. Now both Johnson and Hall will be seen by the students and staff of Merton College, Oxford, where a new portrait of Hall by Johnson has been unveiled. Johnson was speaking at the celebration event for the painting on May 25, in the college’s TS Eliot lecture theatre.

Hall came to Oxford from Jamaica as a Rhodes scholar in 1951, and read English at Merton. While there, he established personal and political ties that would last a lifetime. His widow Catherine Hall, emerita professor of history at University College London, thanked Johnson and all those involved in the commission, including Dr Julia Walworth, who is Fellow Librarian at Merton and led the project. Becky Hall, Stuart’s daughter and a psychoanalyst, shared her first impression of Johnson’s picture, which was at the artist’s London studio over mugs of ginger tea. She said she had been “completely unprepared for the impact of this portrait” and by the realisation of how much it might matter to her and her family to see Stuart Hall, who died in 2014, represented in this way.

Johnson, who was born in Manchester and studied art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, had an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2019. She usually works in pastels and gouaches and doesn’t consider herself a portraitist. Producing this work in oils was a challenge, she said, as a likeness of the subject emerged and then slipped away as she applied and removed layers of paint.

Other speakers at the celebration event were Prof Irene Tracey, who is the vice-chancellor of Oxford University, Gilane Tawadros, the chair of the Stuart Hall Foundation, Prof Jennifer PayneRuth Ramsden-Karelse, and Dr David Dibosa.

For more information, visit the Merton College, Oxford website.

Image: (left to right): David Dibosa, Ruth Ramsden-Karelse, Becky Hall, Catherine Hall, Claudette Johnson, Gilane Tawadros, Julia Walworth.

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