Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bethany Johnson

Horizont II, 2011
ink on paper
9" x 11 3/4" re-post from my article back in June 2012.

Moody Gallery has one of the most simple complex solo shows by an artist that I have seen in quite some time. Bethany Johnson's 'Woven Landscape' pieces are masterworks of modern digital concerns. I see deep meaningful concepts in these minimal, but energized line drawings.

Bethany Johnson’s landscapes make me reflect on the Impressionist painter Georges Seurat. Both Johnson and Seurat have an almost mathematical precision to their images. Dots and dashes are their methods of completing the composition, however Johnson does not fill the space but leaves a shadow or dare I say an impression of the landscape, more so than Seurat. Johnson attempts to use as little amount of information to draw her landscape, while blending the lines with color shifts. She also creates areas of noise lines, reminiscent of digital signal static. In contrast with an artist like Seurat, Johnson is assuming most will experience an outside scene from a television, rather than living the experience. The television is a false experience, like Socrates’ cave story, the image is distorted.

What has caught my interest most about Johnson’s work is, like me, she is pursuing a way to produce art that mimics printmaking, machine, or digital processes with the use of her hands. Fooling the eye into believing these are prints seems to be Johnson’s passion. Her past works also have the removed feel of a machine made product. But on very close inspection, subtle marks reveal that Johnson has actually drawn these works.

Why the attempt to remove the human element? Ever since Warhol, many artists have consciously pursued the goal of the machine made look. Whether this reflects on the industrial revolution in Warhol’s era, or the digital revolution in ours; artists have noticed an increase in simulation and simulacra. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard pointed out some disturbing examples of this ever increasing phenomenon of replication that decreases meaning. Johnson helps to return meaning to her images just by the fact her works are hand made. Her simulation of the landscape is more meaningful than just an image made for mass production. I know what you’re saying, ‘what about the reproduction of her work here?’

I would argue that reproductions of her work here adds meaning, but only if you go to the show at Moody Gallery to see the work in person. Don’t miss this show, which runs through August 18th. for more images.

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