September 2022 Edition

Artist Focus

Artist Focus: Mitchell Johnson

A look at the artwork of Mitchell Johnson

Mitchell Johnson is primarily a colorist. His work draws on a vastness of experience and a persistent desire to make paintings that explain the world through color and shape. He has always moved seamlessly between abstraction and representation resulting in works described by art historian Peter Selz as “realist paintings that are basically abstract paintings and abstract paintings that are figurative.”From Russian Hill, oil on linen, 30 x 40"Beginning in the 1990s, Johnson embarked on long painting expeditions to Italy, France and New Mexico with rolls of canvas packed in a golf bag. Wading through unfamiliar landscapes, often on foot, he worked to understand the ever complex geometry of land and sky. He prevailed not to capture some ideal sense of place, but to see better and to go deeper into painting.Red Sweater (Luxembourg), oil on linen, 32 x 30"“When talking about my work I heavily stress the importance of color behavior and the importance of the design or composition of my paintings,” says Johnson. “But I am also exploring the concept of familiarity. As I have gotten older, I have realized that I travel to reflect on why we find certain things or views to be familiar. I return to places and I go to new places. I’m curious about how color and scale impact the way a chair, iceberg, boat, water tower or house feels familiar versus new, different and unfamiliar. We don’t pay attention to it, but all day we are assessing what is familiar versus what is extraordinary or unusual.” The artist adds, “I’ve been very influenced by the photographer William Eggleston, and I think he is exploring the same thing and he says this with his famous quote: ‘I am at war with the obvious.’ The point is that there is a profound visual experience of the world and our day to day lives, lurking on the other side of obvious and familiar.”Two Chairs (Wellfleet), oil on linen, 70 x 80", Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit Mitchell Johnson: Nothing and Change is on view at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, Massachusetts, September 7 through September 18. Another exhibit, Ten Paintings at Flea Street in Menlo Park, California, is on view September 1 through October 20.

Johnson’s paintings can also be found in the permanent collections of 29 museums and in a new book, Mitchell Johnson: Nothing and Change, Selected Paintings 1990-2022 available at —

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Instagram: @mitchell_johnson_artist

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