Erick Johnson: Double Take

June 19 - October 11, 2021

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit

I’m drawn to the edges of paintings. Centers of paintings tend to be highly worked and are the focus of the viewing experience. Along the edge, you often find the split at the edge of a brushstroke, the drip of paint, the visible overlap of colors—evidence that allows you access to the process of creation. 

Erick Johnson’s paintings are full of edges. Each canvas comprises a roughly formed grid of colorful polygonal forms on a white background, suggesting cross-sections of a rough-cut piece of stone, mineral, or linoleum. The forms sit almost indifferently next to one another. The pictorial dynamic occurs at the tiny points of contact between the polygons where the colors touch—and all those edges.

Following Johnson on Instagram, I noticed he tended to post pictures of patterns made by seemingly random objects seen on the streets of New York: construction scaffolding, double grids created by grates and their shadows, walls tiled with multiple copies of the same poster. Although the objects of his attention are often mundane, his framing of them allows us to see the beauty of the rhythms and patterns of the street. 

I challenged Johnson to create an immersive installation for BMAC incorporating his Instagram feed and paintings. Double Take is the result of that challenge. 

What intrigues me about Johnson’s work is its non-hierarchical nature. He enlivens pictorial space side-to-side and top-to-bottom in his vibrant, large-scale oil paintings, his street photography, and this newly created matrix for viewing. I find his work expansive, egalitarian, and generous of spirit. 

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

Double Take highlights the relationship between the paintings I make in my studio and my adjunct practice of street photography. This exhibit invites an exploration of the links between these two very different but related endeavors.

Painting with oil on canvas is my primary activity. Through drawing, I generate compositional ideas using irregular polygons in a loose grid-like structure. Within each polygon, I paint successive thin layers of color, which are dragged by hand to create rhythms and patterns. I’m engaged by the question of how color and shape create relatedness and difference, as well as emotion and mood.

I like to push the dynamics of the work away from established patterns of geometric painting: my work is hard-edged, but the edges bleed and stain; the polygons appear rational but are irregular and unique; the colors read clearly but on closer inspection are impure mixtures of different pigments. I use tape, but my imprecise hand is evident.

In these ways and others, the work can be read fast and slow, with an open-endedness that invites the viewer to complete the work in their mind’s eye. I’m influenced by polygonal stone architecture, medieval stained glass windows, Islamic art, and tantric art.

The photographs are a counterpoint to my studio practice. I live and work in the visually rich environment of New York City. When I take a break from painting, run errands, and walk around the city, I see situations that could be paintings. My photography practice is quick, unplanned, and serendipitous. In this way, my imagination is portable. 

Shooting on an iPhone, I’m drawn to situations where contingent forces come together. Unlikely nameless agents spray paint, build, tear down, pile up. Natural forces and humanity impart a wabi-sabi effect that is literally “here today, gone tomorrow” in a city that is ever-changing.

Painting wants to be permanent, and yet the photos are of disappearing moments and places. I think of both practices as embodying a generous, life-affirming mutability that I hope this exhibition makes clear.

— Erick Johnson


September 23, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.  Artist & Curator Conversation: Erick Johnson and Mara Williams


Artwork in the exhibit
Installation shots
Virtual Tour
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