Although sometimes considered a Harlem Renaissance artist, Sargent Johnson spent his career in the Bay Area; he was the first African American artist on the West Coast to achieve a national reputation. Johnson moved to San Francisco in 1915 to study painting, drawing, and his primary medium, sculpture. He was committed from early on to using modern aesthetics to create positive representations of African Americans. Like many of his contemporaries, he studied African carvings. For Johnson, however, the purpose of these formal borrowings was to suggest racial continuity and dignity. In the 1930s, while working on public art projects for the New Deal, he began to expand his range of subjects, taking on aspects of abstraction as well as Mexican muralism.