Artist’s Statement on Grid Paintings

Artist’s Statement on “Grid Paintings”

 

These paintings sustain a faith in the transformative capability of art. The artistic pursuit through this work is about embodying principles and values that demand a concentration of will: patience, endurance, consistency. The practice of painting both demonstrates these values, and makes manifest these values in the work that is created. This pursuit, and body of work, stands in opposition to certain cultural impulses that have become hollowing and isolating: creation of profiteering imagery, commoditization of intimacy, cultivation of immediate forms of fleeting stimulation and entertainment. Art is a way to resist these traps, and communicate with honesty.

Because the grids are painted square by square, they demand intense commitments of time and energy; they demand the ability to sustain focus through durations of tedium until suddenly, at long last, something beautiful becomes apparent. The practice of painting becomes embedded in the product of painting and allows for an expression that oscillates between an endurance of suffering and an intensity of transcendence. The goal is to achieve grace not through an instantaneous occurrence or gesture, but through persistence, repetition and perseverance. The grid serves this pursuit in part because the grid itself has no intrinsic meaning; the form is patently human in its unnaturalness. The grid is a creation of consciousness, an illusion, and therefore, when made finite by the shape of a canvas, it becomes capable of expressing the human virtues and multiform inspirations.

From a theoretical point of view, the grid is a formal representation of the foundation of human understanding. Human life is structured by a grid-like system of order based on knowledge and the sciences. Our understanding of the world, and ourselves as individuals, is a process we learn through pre-existing forms of discourse. The grid is the zero-point of human consciousness; it is what is left when the particulars of one’s world are removed. Before there is identity, before there is expression, there is an unfilled grid, an undispersed intensity. Art remains related to, yet apart from, forms of acquisitive understanding; art opens a realm for the imagination. The grid paintings take place at the limits and thresholds of human order and comprehension: the deep sea, the womb, madness, faith, the spirit plane. The paintings display attempts to escape, to pass through, and to transcend being captured by systems of order: Joan of Arc, Icarus, Sisyphus.

Each painting is an attempt to conjure an image from the deep silent regions of existence, rising from somewhere under the heart. These paintings are made in direct relation to what the artist is capable of feeling. Through this work, there is an attempt to overcome the self, to give the self over unconditionally to painting. Art becomes an external intensity abstracted from the human body, capable of going where the artist cannot. There is an effort to create something that will become meaningful to someone else, that will allow something true to be shown, that will channel something greater, and shared. The pursuit is to make art that becomes a point of connection, recognition, and communication that is impossible in any other form. Painting is an exercise of existence, an expression of faith, a return from the universal – it is a way in which we come closer to what lies just beyond life.

–       Michael Burris Johnson, 2014

Pale Composition - 48"x60" - Oil on Canvas - 2012 - Michael Burris Johnson

Pale Composition – 48″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2012 – Michael Burris Johnson

Deep Sea - 60"x60" - Oil on Canvas - 2013 - Michael Burris Johnson

Deep Sea – 60″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2013 – Michael Burris Johnson

Sisyphus - 48"x60" - Oil on Canvas - 2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

Sisyphus – 48″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

In Utero - 60"x60" - Oil on Canvas - 2013 - Michael Burris Johnson

In Utero – 60″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2013 – Michael Burris Johnson

The Movement of Shadows - 24"x30" - Oil on Canvas - Michael Burris Johnson

The Movement of Shadows – 24″x30″ – Oil on Canvas – Michael Burris Johnson

Joan of Arc - 62"x28" - Oil on Canvas - 2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

Joan of Arc – 62″x28″ – Oil on Canvas – 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

MAdness - 60"x60" - Oil on Canvas - 2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

MAdness – 60″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

View From a Burrow - 48"x48" - 2012 - Oil on Canvas - Michael Burris Johnson

View From a Burrow – 48″x48″ – 2012 – Oil on Canvas – Michael Burris Johnson

Icarus - 24"x30" - Oil on Canvas - 2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

Icarus – 24″x30″ – Oil on Canvas – 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

The Circular Ruins - 60"x60" - Oil on Canvas -  2014 - Michael Burris Johnson

The Circular Ruins – 60″x60″ – Oil on Canvas – 2014 – Michael Burris Johnson

In the Studio, March 2014

In the Studio, March 2014

About viewfromaburrow

viewfromaburrow.com www.michaelburrisjohnson.com

3 comments

  1. Reblogged this on acousticlibrary and commented:
    Great post. Great read.

  2. Zach

    I’ve been visiting your blog for a few months now and I find your work quite extraordinary, particularly these grid paintings. I couldn’t help but think of Francis Bacon’s portrait series upon seeing your latest work, Madness. It’s a striking piece and it seems to contain a fundamental characteristic of your work with the grid: the movement between what is planned, methodical, and structured and what is free, expressive, and nuanced. It’s precisely this juxtaposition of the seemingly “cold logic” of the grid and the subtle nuances to be found in the finished works themselves that makes many of these canvases so dynamic (Sisyphus, Pale Composition, and Madness are personal favorites.) I can’t help but think back to the use of the grid by such artists as Mondrian, Klee, and all the way up to someone like Agnes Martin when looking at your works. You seem to have found your own distinct voice within this historically rich form.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Zach – Thank you. This is a great comment, I deeply appreciate your writing. I think what you say about the juxtaposition of what is planned and what is free is just the thing that keeps me interested and returning to the grid work. There is always something that just happens, or appears, in these works that is completely unpredictable, no matter what is planned beforehand. The key, I suppose, (although this is probably the case with almost anything) is to remain open to changes in direction, but to steer the project at the same time. The joy is to bring the cold form of the grid into a state that is expressive, human, emotional – the goal is always to pass through the grid, in a certain sense.
      You’re spot on with Bacon, he was definitely influential in thinking about the space of confinement in Madness. I think that Madness might deserve another attempt, so maybe there will be more of them, maybe break the concept down into sections – do one for mania, melancholia, schizophrenia, etc.
      Klee and Agnes Martin have definitely been influencial as well, and although I don’t feel like I’ve really studied with Mondrian, he has undoubtedly done his part in opening the discourse of painting to allow for the pursuit I now find myself in.
      Zach, very happy to have this exchange. Your insights have inspired new thoughts for me, and I really appreciate you reaching out. Richard Dienst mentioned you in an email a few months back, I’m glad we’ve found the opportunity to connect. I look forward to the next chance to talk – until then, all the best
      – Michael

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