Morgan Lehman is pleased to present After the Fall, a new series of paintings by New York based artist Kysa Johnson. Inspired by the refinement, beauty, and sensuality of Renaissance and Baroque painters such as Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Van Huysum, Johnson recreates classical still-lifes, landscapes, and religious paintings into elegant compositions with an ironic edge using “blown up” biological forms (as seen through a microscope) as her main mark-making technique. The familiarity of the subject matter, the quality of line, the soft and varied palette, the gentle tonal range, and the attention to detail all create a pleasing and activated environment that easily lures one into its world. By manipulating the molecular structures of sexually reproducing organisms, diseases and cures, and environmental pollutants into forming grandiose, conceptually corresponding compositions, Johnson simultaneously inspires multiple readings of her work.
Her paintings are made with watercolor and graphite on panel or chalk and Chinese white on chalkboard-black painted panel. The varied controlled washes of watercolor within each drawn molecular structure create a textured, dense, and subtly fragmented surface. The black and white works on panel utilize high contrast and line to create pixilated figurative narratives. With both mediums, Johnson is able to bring together lightness, fluidity, complexity and depth.
In blow up 118 – the tree of life and death – pneumonia, plague, whooping cough, tuberculosis, penicillin, streptomyces,?and micromonospora after Jan Van Huysum, 2009, a magnificent array of flowers fill a vase and spill out onto a table, at once luscious and decaying. The gentle color and truthful rendering are infected with an unending pattern of the molecular structures of diseases and their cures. The composition becomes a swirled ground for this cycle of life and death, pain and healing to play out. What seems like a picture of a solid, tangible object is in fact porous and mutable.
This idea of a fragmented reality and a deconstruction of what is known is evident in all of Johnson’s paintings. Her ability to pull together beauty and aesthetics with biological, environmental, social, and historical references into a fresh reconstruction of old master paintings gives her work a depth and conscience that encourages one to establish an extended relationship with her paintings. Perhaps viewers that originally take notice of the pleasant or historically familiar subject matter are drawn into a deeper dialogue about current events when they learn about the origin of Johnson’s mark-making language.
Kysa Johnson’s previous solo exhibitions include the Aldrich Museum, CT, the Standpoint Gallery, London, and Roebling Hall, NY. Her recent group exhibitions include the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, NY; the Second Biennial of the Canary Islands; York Art Gallery, York, England; Museum 52, London, England; and the Islip Museum, Islip, NY. She was the recipient of a 2003 NYFA Fellowship, and in 2000 created a permanent installation on the Concourse Level of the Empire State Building. Johnson’s work has recently been acquired by both the Progressive Art Collection, and the Microsoft Art Collection, and recent shows have been reviewed in the New York Times, Art Forum, the New Yorker, and New York Magazine. Johnson currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.