The Conjuring of Colors and Spirit in Aaron Johnson’s New Paintings

Aaron Johnson, who has been continuously pushing the boundaries of painting, presents recent works at Joshua Liner Gallery that highlight his latest innovative painterly technique: stain painting. Previously, Johnson has employed a “reverse-painted acrylic polymer-peel” technique, which consists of multiple painted layers, separated by a clear acrylic polymer, providing captivating spatial dimensions where sleek vibrant colors appear to pop off the canvas plane. Following his reverse-painted acrylic polymer-peel works, Johnson created hybrid combine paintings using an impasto technique of applying acrylic paint over used socks.

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Installation photograph of Aaron Johnson: New Paintings. Courtesy of Joshua Liner Gallery.

In his latest body of work, exemplified in the current Joshua Liner Gallery exhibition simply titled New Paintings, Aaron Johnson stuns us with another technical feat by staining raw canvas with highly fluid acrylic paint and summoning up throngs of fantastical figures from within the colorful bursts of pigment. At this point in his career, Johnson’s signature subject matter is easily recognizable. His bestiaries and burlesque scenes, featuring hordes of grotesque figures performing lewd acts and other scenes that would satisfy our nightmares, are a sight to behold and are not for the faint of heart. However, this new selection of paintings feels more ethereal, dreamlike, and pragmatic than anything he’s painted before.

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Kiefer’s Artful Healing

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Winter Landscape, 1970, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper

Recounting a horrific part of one’s national identity is an excruciating task, more often avoided than addressed directly or repletely. In modern history, Nazi Germany has been a case study of how a contemporary nation heals, reflects, and moves on from the atrocities committed by its previous government. Today, Germany is a pillar of Western Civilization, revered for its economic and social policies. However, the three hundred pound Nazi elephant in the room is still an issue that some of its citizens and elected officials choose to ignore or “deal” with selectively, through banning symbolic references to the Third Reich such as swastikas and Nazi salutes.

Anselm Kiefer’s artwork forces his country to remember how the Nazi’s atrocities violently changed the German cultural landscape during the mid-20th Century. However, instead of appearing didactic and scornful, Kiefer believes that visual art can mend Germany’s sense of pride (or lack there of) for its past. Through his use of Nazi imagery juxtaposed with natural landscapes or cultural relics prior to Hitler’s reign of terror, Kiefer is asking us to question what makes up a nation’s collective cultural identity, and offers a cathartic means for addressing an unforgivable part of  a Germany’s history. The Nazi’s may have appropriated many vital elements of German culture, however, should everything they touched (art, architecture, music, literature, etc.) be deemed non grata in society today? Has banning the symbols and rhetoric that the Nazi’s used, changed the fact that Germany is still struggling with anti-Semitism and white nationalist groups? These are some of the ‘big questions’ Kiefer investigates through his visual art practice, which includes painting, printmaking, installation, and photography. Kiefer’s art counters the collective amnesia regarding Germany’s unfavorable history and digs up its skeletons for us all to reexamine. By doing so we, the viewers, reflect upon our own collective cultural identity. As Americans, do we not have our own cultural demons to coexist with? We have to remember that political correctness often leads to rash censorship, when it may be more effective to meaningfully address sensitive issues outright. Addressing and presenting uncomfortable and sensitive issues is the crux of Kiefer’s artistic process. Therefore, Provocations is a fitting title for his current solo exhibition at the Met Breuer. If political art leaves us yearning to expose, interrogate, and overcome our sense of guilt through empathy and reasoning, then it has been highly effective.

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When the apocalypse comes to science the world can only be rebuilt by painters and poets

Leonel Góngora,  Exorcismo (from the series The Marquis de Sade in Columbia), 1963, mixed media, 11 x 13 in.

Leonel Góngora, Exorcismo (from the series The Marquis de Sade in Columbia), 1963, mixed media, 11 x 13 in.

Leonel Góngora, Ecstasy of Francis, 1964 Gesso, ink, pencil and wax on paper,  30 x 22 in.

Leonel Góngora, Ecstasy of Francis, 1964
Gesso, ink, pencil and wax on paper, 30 x 22 in.

Leonel Góngora, El Resto De La Gorgona, c.1970, oil on canvas and mixed media, 66 x 54 in.

Leonel Góngora, El Resto De La Gorgona, c.1970, oil on canvas and mixed media, 66 x 54 in.

“La ciencia se ha convertido en una nueva religión infalible. Sus dogmas nos arrasan, nos someten y dejan nuestra imaginación a la intemperie. Me es más humano creer en un dios o en Cristo que en la ciencia y en su idea absoluta. Incluso el arte que tantas veces se ha anticipado parece estar proscrito. Cuando venga el apocalipsis propiciado por la ciencia el mundo sólo podrá ser reconstruido por los pintores y los poetas.” – Leonel Góngora