I make art to communicate what I cannot communicate with words: what I need to say about it all; what's going on in the world around us; what I cannot ﬁx; what I wish I could make different with my paint or wood, metal - or the sledge hammer my husband gave me. I work desperately hard at it all - hands ﬁrst: putting on - taking off, scraping, sanding, sawing, soldering, pounding. It takes a whole lot of passion and persistence when you are trying so desperately to trade ashes for beauty
Communication, the first step toward empathy, is at the heart of Julienne Johnson's work. The poetic and numinous qualities of her mixed media artworks are wedded to a uniquely humanistic concern. Her work is not simply an exercise in cleverly arranging shapes and colors into a perfunctory, graphic order. In its dedication to find a unified form of the senses, the works speak of a much more meaningful conversation that is taking place.
Julienne Johnson is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture and assemblage. She has exhibited in the USA, Doha, Qatar and both Northern and Southern Thailand; her lectures include Art Schools and Universities in Florence, Italy and Thailand. Her mentor was the late Franklyn Liegel (1950-2012) and she has studied with Katherine Chang Liu. Johnson continues her studies in Chinese Calligraphy and Chinese Brush painting. Her artworks are in collections across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the USA.
Although I am working intuitively, somehow the paintings are deeply considered and elaborately realized. I am working with my hands - no brushes. The work consists of up to 30 layers of paint and glazes, including: oil, acrylic, graphite, charcoal, crayon, paper, silk, cotton and pigment transfers. Various ordinary objects that are a part of our lives in this space of time, are embedded in the paint: sometimes in part and sometimes as whole objects. Everything you see in the work is personal, meaningful and specific, including the various printed languages seen in the form of transfers. When closely viewed, the transfers can be seen through the various layers of paint and glazes. What may appear to be collage in photographs of the paintings - are actually transfers, excepting a few works done in 2009.
Personal Website: http://juliennejohnson.com
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> PETER FRANK essay on Johnson's current TOUCHED series
Peter Frank is art critic for the Huffington Post, Associate Editor for Fabrik Magazine, and former Adjunct Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum. He is also former art critic for Angeleno Magazine, the LA Weekly, and the Village Voice, and has served as editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine LA. Frank has curated exhibitions for the Guggenheim Museum, dOCUMENTA, the Biennale di Venezia, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and numerous other institutions and galleries. He has published numerous books and catalogues. A cycle of poems, The Travelogues, was issued by Sun & Moon Press in 1982. Frank teaches and lectures extensively throughout North America and Europe.
Julienne Johnson is no less a collagist than she is a painter. Material from the outside world finds its way into almost everything Johnson fabricates, and frequently acts as the spur for generating the artwork itself. By employing collage, Johnson not only signals her interest in the world outside the studio, but directly engages that world in her art. Her art becomes no mere reflection of contemporary life, but becomes a physical part of life’s tissue – and vice versa.
In her production since the end of 2012 Johnson has come to rely on collage, material and technique alike, even more than on painting. Indeed, most of her work from this year consists of paint applied to materials the artist has used to build up her surfaces – build them up, that is, not just formally, but expressively. Even in the most seemingly inchoate, all-over compositions of things, dynamic relationships emerge between objects and substances affixed to canvas or panel, and between such materials and the pigments applied to them.
Those pigments are no longer the primary raison d’être (or de faire) for Johnson. She now uses such pigments to give her activated, quasi-caricatured surfaces their tone; each “painting” – in fact a bas-relief of myriad affixed items – has been as much dyed as painted, the traces of Johnson’s hand no longer articulated by anything like brushstrokes but disappearing into fulminating topographies of stuff.
This is hardly to claim that the human hand has disappeared from Johnson’s work. Just the opposite: the bulk of these assemblaged reliefs are constructed primarily – almost exclusively – of surgeon’s gloves, treated to convey the presence of the hands they are supposed to cover. The hand has receded in Johnson’s work as a tool and has come forward instead as a symbol – or, if you would, a sign, a cipher signifying human activity, human sensitivity, human anxiety, human consciousness.
Johnson regards these assemblaged reliefs as the culmination of her “Touch Me, Touch You” series – and, indeed, they are the most tactile and the most physically aggressive artworks she has ever produced. The two works she made on either side of the new year brim with furious miscellanies, tightly organized into what can be read as impacted urbanscapes, carpets of junk, or a kind of alien braille. They fairly demand to be handled, their bristly but oddly tender skins (the tenderness resulting perhaps from the subtly luminous color coating them) suggesting mystery knowable only through touch.
By contrast, the panels realized since the beginning of 2013 have relied entirely on the trope, visual and physical, of the hand itself. The first several works mash their gloves up into flailing forests of fingers oscillating provocatively between manual gesture and fecund underbrush, painted odd dark shades that seem at the same time botanical and metallic. The gloves used to comprise the more recent such “hand paintings” have been filled with a medium that keeps them “inflated” – and thus emphatically anthropomorphic (although in their teeming density they can also suggest schools of fish, swarming insects, or microbial clusters). They burgeon outward from their roosts.
Thus, Julienne Johnson has literalized the once-metaphoric title of her painting-collage series. In doing so, however, she has not robbed “Touch Me, Touch You” of its poetic resonance. If her newest works ask to be touched or reach out to touch someone, they do so as inanimate objects, abstract structures, and evocations of moods and conditions, not actions. They evoke great storms of activity, but only in their own physical realms; these formulations are, after all, silent and still. But our eyes, and, yes, our hands tell us that they brim with an infectious vitality, and that touching is, here, simply a matter of attitude – Johnson’s, then yours.
> PETER FRANK ESSAY ON JOHNSON
Can abstraction be romantic? If vast expanses of a single color, modulated by shifts in tone and value and leavened with extraneous material, manifest an abstract sublime, can they also manifest a human-sized passion?
Vast as they might be, Julienne Johnson’s paintings maintain a disarming intimacy, confounding our sense of scale even as they launch themselves across the walls. Line, color and space seem to struggle for primacy in Johnson’s works; but, in its very insistence, their argument gradually turns into a coherent, often harmonious chorus. Some of her work relies on a calligraphic vigor, suggesting at once contemplative notation and expansive choreographic movement. Others embrace but (unlike the informel and abstract expressionist models they suggest) do not become the void. Indeed, in their dependence on the presence of non-painterly as well as painterly materials, they celebrate matter itself.
Sensuality offsets existential despair; tactile as well as optical stimulation charges what might have been spiritual as well as visual negative space. The frequent, if usually subtle, appearance of actual text, an ongoing infusion of reports from around the globe in a profusion of alphabets, lets the world in just enough to assert the visual pleasures of writing itself.
Johnson’s is a method, and a world view, both eruptive and lyrical, delighting in its own textures even as it responds urgently to the world and the soul.
> EZRHA JEAN BLACK essay
Ezrha Jean Black, art critic and staff writer for Artillery Magazine, is also an investigative researcher and blogger based in Los Angeles. She has written widely on all the arts and has contributed essays and chapters to books and exhibition catalogs, including Richard Hertz's oral history of the the Los Angeles art world, The Beat and the Buzz. Black freelances for numerous publications on-line and off-line, including The Daily Beast and also writes a fashion blog on Examiner.com.
The impression of color comes first – rich, saturated, frequently in vivid, fire-bright or jewel-like colors, which are modulated through the multiple layers that gradually reveal themselves beneath the surface glazes. “The color is always there,” Johnson says, almost matter-of-factly. It’s not necessarily the focus of the work, although its effects are inescapable. The under painting is complicated by its multiple layers, movements, and digressions. Johnson’s work is clearly impacted by environmental and sheerly informational elements, as well as culturally identifiable or aesthetic motives, that filter free-associatively into what appears to be a very fluid process. It would be easy to imagine Johnson going about her work as if she were reconstructing a complex message of images (and words) by Ouija board.
The cacophony of the information-saturated urban and suburban environment clearly inflects Johnson’s motives. But there is also a more recondite message-making – cursive scrawls that ebb and flow beneath swirls of paint, words and phrases that can barely be discerned yet alternately convey urgency and alienation. Themes (occasionally referencing the political environment) emerge, but are never defining or determinative of the work as a whole. The viewer’s eye scans the surface ruminatively, but not entirely randomly, controlled by Johnson’s orchestration of shape and color, the scrum of macerated messages and asynchronous calligraphic detail. Shape, as it turns out, is what anchors Johnson’s composition. The composition begins even as the canvas is being gessoed, though, through cumulative layers and details, it may be utterly transformed.
Johnson doesn’t shy away from big issues, whether public or political, or personal and emotional. So it makes sense that she seems to focus on shapes that are strong and resilient enough to hold them through the rigor of her process, yet just ambiguous enough to keep the viewer looking and asking questions.
> SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS & EXHIBITIONS
Ratchadamnoen Museum: PERMANENT COLLECTION on PERMANENT EXHIBITION, International Gallery, Krabi, Thailand
Thaksin University Museum: PERMANENT COLLECTION, Songkhla Province, Songkhla, Thailand
Arab American National Museum - on PERMANENT EXHIBITION / Dearborn, Michigan
Arab American National Museum, 3 month exhibition / Dearborn, Michigan
Arab American National Museum - Permanent Collection / Dearborn, Michigan- affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.
Pacific Asian Museum - Contemporary Gallery exhibition / Pasadena, California
TOUCHED, 8 x 8" Hard or Soft cover, Released September 2013
ASHES for BEAUTY, 12 x 12" Hard Cover or 8.5 x 8.5" Soft cover, Released July 2012
A CONVERSATION in ART, 8.5 x 8.5" Soft Cover, Released December 2013