Los Angeles’ Over The Influence Gallery has been champing at the bit, ready at the starting gate with four shows originally planned for this past April. Last weekend, those exhibitions finally opened, with limited scheduled viewing for groups of three at a time, featuring solo presentations by Aaron Johnson, Nicasio Fernandez, Austin Harris, and Ryan Schneider.

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Essentially one of his biggest shows to date, the large, nine new pieces comprising Aaron Johnson’s Cosmic Devotion exhibition have no trouble filling OTI's spacious venue with excitement. Focusing on fewer crowd scenes and hard edges, the NY-based painter maintains his dual interest in abstraction and figuration to flow in the spontaneous fluency of the paint. "This move into looser more fluid work has coincided with an interest in interstellar space, astrophysics, the cosmos," the artist explains. Through a process that is purposely impossible to fully control, Johnson creates more expansive abstract passages where washes upon washes of paint interact in unpredictable ways where figures wallow and disappear in the layers of an undefined landscape. The show also includes the reintroduction of a borderless format that is tondos, which fully related to the fluidity and unpredictability of the creative process. 

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For Something’s Off, his solo debut with the gallery, Nicasio Fernandez painted several new oil paintings on linen pieces, where visual puns or pictorial images springing from common phrases lend surprising meaning to everyday objects. In his signature, long-nosed characters, he concocts visual metaphors for personal experiences and emotions activated by the freedom of surrealism. "This work overall was definitely more emotional work than I've made in the past," Fernandez tells us about the body of work. "I think also that emotions came to surface to really draw the viewer in into an ‘I’ve been there/know how that feels’ moment." Accentuating features, the artist works with and beyond the human figure while addressing the human nature and social behaviors. The new works also introduce the artist's fresh mark-making with the frequent use of patterns that emphasize the image and settings. 


MFA candidate at The New York Academy of Art, Austin Harris makes his debut with Keeps on Burning, featuring seven new works on linen on painted frames fashioned by the artist himself. Painting from memory instead of from reference material for the first time, the young painter imprinted feelings on the canvas by creating an autobiographical body of work. The linear narration is most noticeable in two small paintings that are connected with a common subject. Showing a bottle of "sick juice" alcohol, and depiction of a boat floating towards uncertainty, the two pieces portray what can be the desperate, toxic, infectious, and artificial nature of troubled youth. Addressing the issue of growing up surrounded by hyper-masculinity, depressed behaviors patterns, and resulting emotions, Harris' work is imbued with a much stronger emotive content than the immediately appealing surface might suggest. As inviting colors  and comic elements capture the viewer,  as well as utilizing a sharp, voluminous visual rendition of objects and subjects to make the stronger point, the artist tells life’s stories in a profound way. 

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The final presentation is the inaugural exhibition of new sculptural works by Joshua Tree-based artist Ryan Schneider, who introduces carved wooden sculptures charred and painted in oil stick in a body of work called Split Spirits. Coming from a painting background the artist's approach to sculpting, mixes the two techniques. Using the piece of wood both as guide and blank canvas, he, in effect, drawing into the wood with an axe, chainsaw, or a torch, allowing the wood to transform naturally. Inspired by the mysticism of the desert, as well as the tradition of African or Native American art, the painted sections evoke cubist influences. Using very bold, unmixed pigments, the vibrant turquoise or red hues along with scorched sections accentuate the existing attributes, creating dramatic contrast with existing wood texture or grains. Aside from larger, totem-like pieces, Split Spirits include a series of smaller works that are influenced by the monumental impact of cave hand painting on the artist. —Sasha Bogojev

Photo credit Flying Studio. Courtesy of Over the Influence.