Abstract Painting and Freedom

Cosmos. Oil on canvas  2012 by Vincent Johnson

Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Remind me of the fact that Abstract picture making, or the making of abstract paintings, is the highest level of freedom for the artist. The fact of the matter is that Abstraction frees the artist from having to represent anyone or anything, for any reason, from the political to the ego mania of portraiture. Abstraction is itself the site of freedom. The artist is free to explore every internal idea – whether it be the nature of existence itself, the meaning of life or merely the majesty of the infinite materiality of paint, as explored by artists as wide-ranging in painterly concerns as Jack Whitten, Amy Sillman, John McLaughlin and Gerhard Richter. It was none other than the United States of America’s government itself that both shadowed, foretold, broadcast and shipped out to the world Abstract Painting in America, in the form of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the post-war period. Abstraction was viewed as the visual equivalent of jazz, where there were no set rules, where free improvisation was the rule and never the exception. Jazz influenced Abstract Painting, from its fluidity of thought and language play, to its flights of genius in brushstrokes. Abstract Painting in the form of Abstract Expressionism recognized it would not want to compete with the direct bloodline of European painting history. So it took from painting and started a completely new road, one full of American flash and fire, with jazz in both the foreground and background, listened to live at night and in the studio by daylight. Abstract Expressionism removed itself from European easel painting, which had removed itself from painting for and in the church.  So in a new land and with a new plan painting burst forth with a vibrancy and native intelligence and energy that has caused it to not only rise up, but also withstand the difficult hours when painting became to be viewed as a lessor form of analytical engagement. This lasted for a brief while in terms of the reality of the life of things. Now painting has been elevated as it again has large numbers of the most intellectually engaged artists working it the medium. Do not forget that paint today is by a creation of science, yet its materials come from the earth and allow both woman and man to create and recreate the world – in their own image, or in the case of Abstraction, in images that explore every available manner of thinking about reality and existence itself, by being both mirror and presenter of philosophical truths.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2012

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.

photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.

Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011

http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles.

Vincent Johnson: Nine Grayscale paintings in Los Angeles

Grayscale painting No. 1

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – white paint layer applied and drying in my studio

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot

During the summer of 2011, after going to an art talk in Highland Park in LA while the Los Angeles Lakers were being decimated by the Dallas Mavericks, I decided that I would again put into play the knowledge I had acquired about how a painting was constructed. I had abandoned painting over 15 years ago while in grad school in Los Angeles, in favor of working with photography. One of the key motivating factors in my wanting to paint again was how much I now knew about the history of the medium – not merely of what the pictures looked like, but literally how they were made with a variety of techniques used to build the first layers from light to dark or from dark to light, followed by dozens if not 30 or forty layers of glazing as in a painting by Corot. One of the issues for me as well was seeing how many artists in LA and New York were making one layer paintings that were not visually satisfying. It was clear to be that the technique of making a painting all at once and in one day was not working for all too many artists. And it was obvious to me that many of the paintings I was looking at were made without realizing that the majesty of painting is achieved primarily through the layering of paint, as paint itself is a film, no different from a film get being used to create a certain kind of light in a film. So what I set out to do was to create Abstract Paintings using the techniques of Representation and Realism. Not surprisingly, the quality of the paint I was using produced visual effects that were far more compelling than had I tried to force the paint to behave in a certain way. I allowed for greatest chance events on the canvas, and limited my palate to a range of gray, black and white paints, as well as silver and gold from top grade artist paint companies. The first Nine Grayscale paintings were exhibited during the late summer in Los Angeles at the Beacon Arts Center. I prepared each canvas by layering each one with basic grayscale underpaint, then allowed them to air dry for well over a week. I then returned to each canvas and applied a layer of the finest white paint on the market, along with a mixture of painting medium, then again allowed as much as two weeks for this layer to dry, before attacking each canvas with a wide array of studio tools and brushes and  rags to get the visual effects I wanted to make. After this I allowed each layer to again dry and then came in with brushes and the full range of my palate and more glazing medium, finally completing the Nine Grayscale paintings over a two month period. I documented the paintings at the different stages I’ve described here. For my second group of grayscale paintings I decided to go to 30×40 inch canvases, up from 20×24 inches, to see if the techniques I was using could be applied to those scales as well. One of these paintings has been left at the second stage – the white paint both covering and conveying the strong grayscale underpaint beneath. With my now also doing cutout collages again, prompted by my creating a new work for The Bearden Project, I am now working in painting, cutout collage, photography, photomontage, and soon will be posting video shorts from my upcoming trip to London.

http://vincentjohnsonart.com/

feel free to contact me at:  LANYArtiststudio@gmail.com

Grayscale Painting No. 2

Grayscale painting No. 3

Grayscale painting No. 4

Graysale painting No. 5

Grayscale painting No. 6

Grayscale painting No. 7

Grayscale painting No. 8

Grayscale painting No. 9

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 1

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 2

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio shot – 1 (Silver hand)

Vincent Johnson – in my studio working on my Nine Grayscale Paintings

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – first stage of grayscale painting

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio view of stage one of grayscale paintings drying

Vincent Johnson Biography  as of November 2011
Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Soho House, Los Angeles, Palihouse, West Los Angeles, Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, Locust Projects, Miami, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Europe and Los Angeles. His most recent work, a series of nine grayscale paintings, was shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles in the group show entitled The Optimist’s Parking Lot. He has a new cutout collage work in the upcoming The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He also participated in the inaugural edition of Pulse Fair Los Angeles with Las Cienegas Projects. He is also participating in Locust Projects Miami’s annual benefit exhibition in the late fall of 2011.
Parked wreck, Los Angeles (2005) by Vincent Johnson

Vincent Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986.   He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications.

http://vincentjohnsonart.com/

LANYArtiststudio@gmail.com

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