The lighter side of Chris Johanson

"My old art is really negative" says the artist, "I would never make art like that ever again."
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Untitled (Reasonable) 2012, by Chris Johanson
Untitled (Reasonable) 2012, by Chris Johanson

One of the Phaidon creatives we always look forward to working with is Californian artist Chris Johanson. So we were pleased to see that he's written a really nice passage to introduce his new show, Within The River of Time Is My Mind. The show, which coincides with the publication of our new monograph,  is on now at MOCA Pacific Design Center in LA, until September 22.

Johanson's words are laid out on MOCA's website with fairly exacting spaces and line-breaks, so it's difficult for us to reproduce it at its best here, but we'd like to draw your attention to a few choice lines: "The exhibit is a found wood installation... ...The theme is the personal river of life connected to the greater river of life... ...It is an exercise in filling up time with actions / I was told on several occasions that filling up time with activities could make a person feel good / Repetitive activities like painting houses or paintings is good for brain chemistry / For creating serotonin... ... All the work I have done in my life formulates to make this happen."

 

Suburban House Painting (2010) by Chris Johanson
Suburban House Painting (2010) by Chris Johanson

There's some clear continuity here between this new show and Johanson's better-known works. He's painted on pieces of discarded wood for sometime; and he often seems to think about the therapeutic, near-neurological aspects of his work. Yet the mature positivism of his latest work stands in contrast to the punky, tripped-out work with which he first made his name. 

As he explained in a recent LA Times interview, "My old art is really gnarly, it's really negative ... my art from the '90s." He continues, "I would never make art like that ever again - people scoring drugs and ripping people off and guilt spirals and people sweating. But you change. I'm trying to have a positive life now - I am having a positive life. It was a slow process of becoming more positive from being a negative person."

 

Untiled (Decisions that I Make) (2012) by Chris Johanson
Untiled (Decisions that I Make) (2012) by Chris Johanson

Johanson offers a more comprehensive account of this turnaround in our monograph, telling interviewer Corrina Peipon, how "two or three years ago, I didn't think I was even going to be able to do this anymore, cause I was scared to talk, scared to even think about what I had been doing. It was pretty life changing really. I was sure it was over."

Thankfully it wasn't. However, this new show isn't filled with Damascene revelations and flat assertions of self-empowerment. Instead, the pictures appear to be more fragile, imperfect and humane. Rather than succumbing to nervous exhaustion, Johanson seems to have tempered that youthful, critical exactitude of the grunge years, without selling out, to produce more vital, honest paintings.

 

Being In My Life 1 (2013) by Chris Johanson
Being In My Life 1 (2013) by Chris Johanson

In the LA Times interview he says "I came to the decision by paying attention to my life and the natural rhythms of life I saw around me. There are schools of life around you every day."

Read the full interview here. Find out more about the show here. For greater insight into Chris Johanson both then and now, please take a look at our great new monographPhaidon Club members will get 350 points for purchasing it. To discover more about our club and what it offers, go here.


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