Aaron Johnson is an accomplished painter with a keen eye for experimentation. His visceral works demand attention through strong composition, an intense palette and extraordinary levels of detail.
Aaron Johnson, Owl, acrylic on polyester mesh, 2009.
One of the highlights of our recent trip to NYC was getting a chance to catch up with Aaron at his studio in Brooklyn. We’d been in touch “virtually” for about a year so it was great to finally meet in the flesh. He was kind enough show us around his headquarters and answer a few burning questions.
Your studio is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a place steeped in history. Any unique experiences to share?
The Navy Yard has a post apocalyptic feel, with these crumbling ghosts of old buildings all around. Skeletons of old mega-factory buildings where all the world war ships were built. At the same time it’s so spacious and quiet, it’s a great counter-balance to the compression and chaos of living in New York.
Could you offer some insight about the mythology behind these paintings?
I can be interested in the socio-political myths of liberty, democracy, and freedom. And religious myths of salvation, damnation, and the eternal. And all the myths tied up in the body.
Your last show at STUX Gallery had decidedly political overtones. Have the recent changes in Washington altered your direction?
No. It’s more like I made a decision to turn the political filter off for a while. Sometimes the paintings have to be just paintings. Then when an external cause comes up to steer the content, a cause may do that, but in the meantime just trying to make a compelling painting and to answer to the history of painting is a heavy responsibility enough.
Before you received your MFA from Hunter College, you earned another degree. Could you tell us about that and the impact it has had on your work?
Well… seemingly a lifetime ago, I got my bachelors in Molecular Cellular Biology (1997), which certainly shaped my world view and my understanding of humanity, and making art is a filter for all that.
You employ an interesting technique to produce your paintings. Could you give us an idea as to how this “reverse painting” came about?
I had to teach myself how to paint. And that teaching process was all experimentation. Playing with acrylic as a solid. And that solid metaphorically is flesh. And reverse painting metaphorically is dissection, from inside the body.
Have you been experimenting with new techniques? Could you tell us a bit about them?
I’m collecting rusted detritus around the navy yard. I don’t know what to do with it yet. Or maybe nothing will happen with it, but having it around is making me think differently. The reverse-painted-acrylic-polymer-peel method I invented needs to keep mutating, as it always does.
Do you have plans for upcoming exhibitions or any news that you’d like to share?
I’m starting a rock band. Not really, but I mean if I did have big big news to share, I wish it could be that I’m starting a rock band.
Thanks to Aaron Johnson for graciously allowing entrance to his studio and answering our queries. For more on this talented artist see his website. For a better understanding of the technique behind these paintings be sure to check out, “How to make an Aaron Johnson painting.”
More photos from inside Aaron’s studio after the jump.