Roy Johnston is not schizophrenic, but his solo show at the Weston Art Gallery sometimes seems to be a two-person exhibition. Like a group (two is a very small group) show, the paintings, drawings, and prints on view are related, but in this case it’s just Johnston pursuing simultaneously two strains of aesthetic exploration.
One strain is nonobjective, but the other has “some sense of object relationship to things associated with the phenomenological world,” as Johnston explains. This manifests itself through what appear to be diagrams or charts. Yet for the artist, their “true origin as forms really belongs to the generation of paintings, which has preceded them.” Hence the title of the exhibition—Binding Connections.
Johnston’s Transformation series, a suite of 10 bold black-white-and-gray abstract drawings—lithographic tusche on Mylar—has works from 2007 and 2010 (everything in the exhibition comes from just these two years), and it is impossible to determine which year a particular print was made.
Just like in a two-man show, Johnston’s dual artistic personalities are given equal weight. The gallery visitor is immediately confronted in the entryway with an impressive example of Johnston’s purely nonobjective approach in his 60” x 60” acrylic-on-canvas Evolution II, 2010. It replicates on a larger scale the 20” x 20” Evolution I, from 2007.
Occupying an equally important location—the first work seen as the visitor enters the exhibition proper—is the untitled 100” x 118” composition, painted directly on the wall. A diagram of unsteady turquoise lines is overlaid on a background of burnt orange. The colors positively vibrate, and the effect is mesmerizing.
However, the works that transfix me are the three 41” x 41”, charcoal on Arches paper drawings done in 2010. They combine elements from each body of work, and their title tells the tale: Dark Assimilation. Sooty black blobs look like bleeding ink spots and recall Johnston’s abstractions. Beneath these shapes is a network of sharply drawn lines that energetically crisscross the composition. They bring to mind Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, but unlike Duchamp’s nude proceeding purposefully down the steps, Johnston’s lines ricochet across the field.
For me, a major criterion for judging a work of art is when I’ve moved on, left the gallery, and returned to my daily mundane tasks, it stays with me, haunts me. This series is mysterious and haunting.
-Karen S. Chambers
Binding Connections: Recent Drawings, Prints, and Paintings by Roy Johnston on view through December 5th at Weston Art Gallery, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. 513-977-4165
Pictured : Installation view. Untitled (2010). Latex paint on wall (right side). 110” x 118”. Courtesy of the Weston Art Gallery.