The raw paintings of James Johnston (1966) capture something archetypal, medieval and psychological about the humble human.
Artist’s have often used symbolic elements to heighten the dramatic elements within our lives, in Johnston’s case his expressive, saturated and luminous use of paint creates deep wells for the viewer to fall into. Ironically, a term that is rarely used in art circles, and if used then aimed disparagingly as a faint compliment, is imaginative. But in this case it truly and sincerely applies. From the tantalising images shown ahead of the exhibition Johnston has become more confident and refined in his approach, as well as less concerned with the potential echoes toward the iconoclasm of Blau Reiter or Van Gogh. The work speaks for itself, gathering the audience around gripping stories of narrative entropy; scenes and characters worn down to their essential forms, brushed aside perhaps, but unforgettable.
Exhibition Notes: James Johnston – The Human Menagerie
James F Johnston’s latest solo show ‘The Human Menagerie’ at Fitzrovia Gallery brings together a striking collection of new and recent work on canvas, paper and wood. Peopled by animals and haunted figures, the work reflects both an expressionistic theatricality and a love of symbolist northern landscape painting. The natural world made unnatural.
Also included in the show are collaborative wooden sculptures made with renowned sculptor Corin Johnson.
James Johnston – biog.
Born in 1966, painter and musician James Johnston has primarily been known for his work as a musician -with his own band Gallon Drunk, as a former member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and more recently for his work touring and recording with PJ Harvey.
Johnston’s turn to figurative painting initially began with working small scale in hotel rooms on tour, and as a reaction to writer’s block, subsequently becoming his primary focus as a daily studio practice. His paintings are both bold and loose, and marked by their rich and striking use of colour. The often unsettling, totemic, and darkly humorous images are based between the everyday and the world of the imagination, grounded with a sense of simplicity and beauty. A prolific painter, exhibiting in group and solo shows, his work has been used on book covers, as album artwork and featured in a variety of international arts publications, with paintings in the collection of the University of Chicago in Paris.
“A remarkable gift for loose, raw painting… that straightaway imprints itself on the viewer’s imagination” – The Economist.
“Paintings full of mythic power.” – Nick Cave
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The Human Menagerie: James Johnston
June 6-11 2023
Fitzrovia Gallery. 139 Whitfield St. London W1T 5EN
Private view June 6th. 6pm.
Images courtesy of James Johnston and Fitzrovia Gallery. © James Johnston
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle