Interview with Teddy Johnson 2019

Teddy Johnson has been an artist and friend associated with the gallery since 2011. We caught up with him about his recent works in the exhibit Abound which runs through March 23rd at the gallery. We spoke about the three distinct sets of works in the series which are featured below. Please join us in welcoming Teddy back to the gallery this Saturday from 5-8pm for the closing reception.

Teddy Johnson ,  Across the Ocean Deep , 2017,  Contact Gallery

Teddy Johnson, Across the Ocean Deep, 2017, Contact Gallery

JLM: Comment on the initial paintings in the series

TJ: The first 5 paintings in the series emerged in a period of change in my life. I started these leading up to the birth of my son, but also in the midst of the last election cycle. The world seemed to be searching for what it wanted and I was processing a new life emerging. Rebirth, birth, struggle, and catharsis are at the heart of the works. 

When I was in school I had the opportunity to study for two semesters in Italy. I was really touched by the works of mannerists like Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino when I was there. This series is absolutely influenced by the way they explored gesture, color, and expression. 

Teddy Johnson ,  Descent/Ascent , 2018,  Contact Gallery

Teddy Johnson, Descent/Ascent, 2018, Contact Gallery

JLM: Comment on the choice of colors , perspective and lighting. 

TJ: The rendering of the hands, arms, and figures is something that I approach without a fixed end point. I build them intuitively searching for a moment were the subject approaches a level of expression that I feel captures a symbol or metaphor effectively. Depending on the painting, I might want an element of calm or tension.  I might be after a fully formed believable rendering or a symbolic impression. I was conscious of trying to avoid a feel of academic, anatomical studies in this work. I used color, distortion, and varying levels of finish in the hands to push towards metaphorical and symbolic ideas.

Teddy Johnson ,  Process Procession , 2018,  Contact Gallery

Teddy Johnson, Process Procession, 2018, Contact Gallery

JLM: Can you give us some technical  insight into the creation of these works ?

TJ: There are three series of works in Abound, all using hands as a starting point. In the first  5 paintings in the series they overlap and interweave in imagined space. The hands themselves are in the forefront and the central metaphor. These paintings are equal parts observed and imagined. I used myself and a studio mirror to search for gestures, and to work observationally in a way that allowed me to render, adapt, and distort to best fit the purpose of the painting. 

These paintings were followed by a series of two paintings that include bingo cards. They are in part a  conversation between my previous series (which focused on paper as a central subject) and the new subject matter of hands. For these works I built a still-life of bingo cards in my studio and lit them so I could work observationally for the majority of the painting, before bringing the hands in. The rich color of the bingo cards and the intensity of participation at a local bingo night inspired the works.  

Teddy Johnson  ,  Bingo II , 2018,  Contact Gallery

Teddy Johnson , Bingo II, 2018, Contact Gallery

The Kindling/Tinder series are the most recent in the exhibit. These paintings combine direct observation, minds eye invention, and photographic reference. They started with a still-life.  I set up flashlight lit boxes with cypress branches, dried grass, and goldenrod, before adding the hands. In these six I used both the mirror and photography for the placement of the hands.  The color is largely invented in this series.

Kindling/Tinder Green, 2019, Contact the Gallery

Kindling/Tinder Green, 2019, Contact the Gallery



JLM: Comment further on the Kindling/Tinder Series

TJ: I try to go hiking or spend time in nature whenever I can. The five paintings in the series Kindling/Tinder evolved from looking at the bones of plants in late fall through early spring.  Bare branches and dry brush hold the promise of new growth and seed. In an unfamiliar landscape they are place holders for what is about to come.  The bare twigs, grass, and goldenrod I depict in my series are materials that might be used to start a fire.  When working on my paintings I thought about  the moment before a fire lights and the anticipation that holds.  

The hotspot could symbolize the moment of ignition. The handling of the background is also an opportunity to create an element of abstraction that might mirror some of the ideas I'm exploring in the representations.