Mike Weiss Gallery presents Huntress, an exhibition of new oil paintings on canvas by Los Angeles based artist Elisa Johns. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition at Mike Weiss Gallery. Inspired by iconic heroines of myth and history, Johns’ women are updated contemporary versions in an excessively glamour-driven society. Tipping her hat to illustrators of fashion, her figures set in luxurious landscapes are depicted in light washes and embellished with painterly impasto.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Phoenix, Johns is no stranger to seeing cultural icons glorified. Here, she offers us an alternative to celebrity deities and gives us women who by history’s definition defied the rules of their time.
An integral figure in this series of work is the biblical heroine Judith. Judith, a decidedly bold widow who has inspired works by Giorgione, Gustav Klimt and Lucas Cranach the Elder, is depicted in Elisa’s work as a willowy assassin. In the painting “Judith’s return to Bethulia”, the murderous siren reclines in the desert with her horse, contemplating her recent seduction and beheading of the Assyrian leader Holofernes from whom she saved her town of Bethulia. Thickly rendered embroidery on Judith’s bodice nearly melts into the canvas. The ground beneath her quietly fades away to white, the landscape becoming an element of fantasy.
Rejecting the academic use of perspective, Johns borrows from Chinese pen and ink drawings, often composing her paintings to read vertically rather than from the center outwards. In “Diana and the stag” the warrior’s billowing gown extends into the landscape becoming one with the ground and leaves. Her hoofed stag stands unconcernedly nearby, watching as Diana draws her bow in pursuit of her victim. The strength of her figure is enhanced by the fragile lines of pencil delicately indicating the fingers perched so firmly on the body of her weapon. The eyes of Diana, smoky and defined, gaze outward at her prey. Using Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle for inspiration, Elisa combines ancient women of war with contemporary fashion types.
Elisa Johns lives and works in Los Angeles, California. The artist received her Bachelors of Art at the University of California, San Diego, California and her Masters of Fine Art at Claremont Graduate University, California. Johns was featured in the 2004 and 2007’s New American Paintings, in 2008 she was chosen to participate in LA Potential, at Hangar 7, Salzburg, Austria and in 2009 received a review from Art in America for her recent solo show at Walker Contemporary, Boston. Johns has also previously shown at Black Dragon Society, Los Angeles. This is her first solo exhibition in New York.