Icarus - 24"x30" - oil on canvas - January 2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

Icarus – 24″x30″ – oil on canvas – January 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

This painting is the first of what will be a series of similar compositions I am calling Icarus, or the Icarus series. The view is the imagined view of Icarus, after taking flight from the labyrinth.

In this re-conjuring of the myth, I am focusing less on the traditional aspect of Icarus’s refusal to follow the instructions of Daedalus, flying too high, and wings melting, and more on an idea that, in escaping the labyrinth, and looking out over the earth, there is a realization that the entire earth has been gridded, there is no place to land that has not been overtaken by the labyrinth. The creation has grown greater than creator; there is no place on earth where Icarus can land without once again being captured.

In this interpretation, narrated through a visual series, Icarus’ fall into the sea is less an accident, and more of a refusal to be captured. His wings fail him because they were not built to withstand the duration of flight necessary to find a place where he will not once again be caught by the gridded system, or labyrinth. He will stretch his flight until featherless, until sea enters sight, until there is no more denying the only thing that is certain.

We know, at this point as viewers, that the flight is doomed before it begins. Utilizing mythology has this benefit. I think it gives a sort of suspense to the paintings once it is viewed through the lens of Icarus. I suppose though, without any knowledge of Icarus, the paintings are still expressing the root of the statement that the earth has become captured by a system of stratification, mapping, and surveillance.

On a personal level, or artistic level, I relate to Icarus. As I have become engaged in a pursuit in painting, I am very much aware of the risk of this life choice, and the possibility of failure. I feel as though I have begun a flight with crafted wings, and I will see how far they can take me.

Perhaps, though, my human body is more like Daedalus, whereas my body of work, or the art itself, is more like Icarus. My ability to craft the wings will determine how far the body of work will fly.

Of course, from any perspective, there is the inevitable doom, or oblivion. In time all will be forgotten, this much is certain.

From a larger scope, this painting is a first of my attempts to escape the grid as a form of expression. I’ve been painting and thinking in grid-thought for about a year and a half now, and although I consider the grid to be a very powerful form, that still has something to offer, it is a form I have begun to see more and more. There seems to be a very wide opening in the discourse of painting for the grid right now, and so, I think that it will be very important to find ways to escape it, or move beyond it.

With this being said, the ultimate escape, overcoming, or even destruction of the grid form will have to be a careful one, and perhaps it will be necessary to demonstrate failure before success. Icarus, is, an attempt that ultimately ends only in death.

In regards to the actual painting of this, my biggest concern became how to paint the cloud shadows. That is, whether the cloud shadows should be brushed similar to the clouds themselves, or whether the shadows should be gridded in the same fashion as the rest of the surface of the earth. The clouds ultimately remain free from the grid, this much is determined, but whether or not their points of interaction (the shadows) become gridded, or not, is a point I am still undecided on. Perhaps in the next attempt I will experiment differently, there is much to be explored, and learned, in the duration of this flight.

– Michael Burris Johnson, 2014

About Michael Johnson

michaeljohnson.studio thewindandthestones.com viewfromaburrow.com


  1. What an intriguing concept for a series.

  2. Pingback: The Movement of Shadows | VIEW FROM A BURROW

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: