Ghostly Faces in the Crowd in the New Works of Aaron Johnson
The art of Aaron Johnson exists as a world of dichotomies. Creating a universe of opposites, Johnson’s imaginary world of the grotesque skillfully connects dreams with nightmares, light with darkness, and life with death. Concentrating his often irreverent ideological focus, Johnson continues to perfect new ways of making works, strengthening the unique universe his characters inhabit. His new work, New Paintings, is on view at Joshua Liner Gallery through July 6, 2018.
The exhibition is comprised of new paintings by Johnson that feature crowds of figures emerging from luminous spectrums of color. Each scene contains a multitude of characters, conveying an array of emotional and psychological states. Johnson asserts, “There is a mysterious quality in these crowd scenes, the narratives are not concrete, but the suggestion for narrative possibilities is ambiguous and open to the viewer. The crowd scenes can be ceremonies, gatherings, rituals.” At times, the apparitions appear distracted amongst themselves, while in others, their stares directly implicate the viewer. For these new works, Johnson continues to pull inspiration from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Berlin street scenes and James Ensor’s parades, while adding the lyricism of Color Field painting. In The Guests a horde converges below an inverted blue triangular patch of sky, their colors dissolving as they meet at the center of the canvas.
As an artist, Johnson explores his themes with a renewed focus and a fresh technique. For these paintings, Johnson stains raw canvas with highly fluid acrylic paint to create intense pools of color and ethereal auras, recalling Color Field painters such as Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. While this staining technique may be simple in terms of materiality and process in comparison to the artist’s reverse-painted-acrylic-polymer peel paintings and sock paintings, this new method produces complex works, full of painterly movement and bursts of color unimaginable in his previous bodies of work.
The crowds in these paintings serve both as compositional and psychological devices. Compositionally, each figure is painted in relation to one another, inverting the typical figure/ground relationship prevalent in the history of figurative painting. The result leads to a boundless sea of figures. The compositions that materialize spontaneously from Johnson’s process, create luminous auras that he transforms into familiar archetypes such as the cowboy, the bowler-hatted gentleman, and the seductress in a colorful dress. Johnson states, “I like to imagine the canvas as a portal and this process as a kind of conjuring. I see the characters in these paintings as manifestations, brought to light via synergy between the fluidity of paint and my own subconscious self, and in moments tapping into a higher vibration or spiritual aspect of reality.”