CHROMATIC MOMENTUM BY DAVID PAGEL
Dion Johnson does stuff with color that other artists don’t even dream of, much less deliver. The L.A. painter makes color fat, like the belly of the Buddha, at least as it appears in many sculptures of the half-naked sage, whose beaming smile and twinkling eyes suggest a kind of enlightenment that is whole-bodied, pleasurable and an end in itself. Johnson also keeps color taut, like a sail in a gale, stretched to its physical limits in gracefully bulging curves that are elegant, functional and forceful. There’s a sharpness to Johnson’s tangy slice of the spectrum, whose astringent kick gets echoed in the crisp edges of the snuggly abutted shapes his colors take. Their sizzling intensity is similarly keyed up by the lovely weirdness Johnson generates with their out-of-whack juxtapositions, which should be queasy, even garish, almost vulgar, but somehow come off as even more gorgeous for their oddball precision.
Despite the evocative heat that radiates from Johnson’s radically saturated paintings, there’s an implacable cool to their bands and swoops of color: a type of synthetic iciness that avoids the sting of nature’s coldness, the harshness of psychological withdrawal and the anaesthetized deadness of emotional detachment in favor of the ravishing extravagance of an unnaturally enhanced palette—a range of tints, tones and temperature that all seem to be on especially friendly terms with neon and plastic and all manner of artifice, the sexier the better. The razor-sharp lines pin-stripers apply to customized low-riders also lie behind Johnson’s compositions, in which the thinnest sliver of some strange tertiary expands gradually to become a kind of slender penmanship that then morphs into an aerodynamic shape with so much muscularity that it seems to be three dimensional: an idiosyncratic building block locked together with others in ways that make them feel as if they’re adrift—freely flowing left and right, up and down, forth and back, as if they were not merely breathing but abuzz and ahum and apulse with a rhythm no less palpable for its silence.
I think of Johnson’s new paintings as the high-def version of So-Cal abstraction. The pleasures Johnson brings to paint on canvas and paper have a lot in common with those that high-def technology brings to movies and monitors and photographs and billboards and phones: imagery sharper and more vivid and optically stimulating than previous versions served up. In Johnson’s hands, what Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Linda Besemer, Monique Prieto, and Patrick Wilson do with color gets souped-up and super-charged—ready for a future that looks better than expected, and far, far better than business as usual.