Lester Johnson was born in 1919 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was the youngest of seven children and came from Swedish decent. After studying at the Minneapolis School of Art and the St. Paul Art School, he moved to New York City in 1947. His first studio and home was next door to Wolf Kahn on 6th Street and Avenue A, followed by a loft on St. Mark’s Place, which he shared with Larry Rivers.
In 1949, he married Josephine Valenti, an art historian. They moved into a home on 2nd Avenue. After moving uptown, he continued to work downtown, in a studio on 222 Bowery. In 1961, he briefly left the city for an artist-in-residence position at Ohio State University.
After returning to New York while sharing a studio on 10th Street with Philip Pearlstein, he was invited by Jack Tworkov to teach at Yale. He accepted and moved Josephine and their two children to Milford, CT, where he taught and continued to paint in a studio behind their home. Summers were spent in Springs, Long Island.
Lester Johnson lived briefly in South Hampton where he passed away in 2010.