Sock pile in the Aaron Johnson Studio, Brooklyn 2012
When I visited Aaron Johnson this March, I knew that he was onto something new artistically, but precisely what, I had no idea. I stepped into his studio in Brooklyn and saw two of his new paintings that leaned against the wall. I was dumbfounded. I saw his satirical and bloody universe had taken off into a whole new dimension. The exciting new works now have their world premiere at Gallery Poulsen. Who but Aaron Johnson would invite his friends on social media to send him their used socks, which he can use as material for his art? The new works are steeped in Aaron Johnson’s passion and ferocity, while displaying new and surprising qualities. Where his amazing and colorful paintings until now have been painted inwards, in layers worked on the reverse of the surface, the new sock-paintings reach outwards and appear as a cross between objects and images.
Min tekst om udstillingen
Aaron Johnson’s new paintings draw on the legacy of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and Pablo Picasso, whom Aaron Johnson recently was presented alongside in an exhibition at MoMA in New York. Combining an original technical approach with social and global outreach, Aaron Johnson’s new paintings manage to convey his muscular grip on the crazy times we live in.
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Aaron Johnson is in my eyes one of the world’s most innovative artists and it is therefore a great pleasure to once again open a solo show with him in Gallery Poulsen.
Welcome Morten Poulsen, 2013
Alley Cat Acrylic and socks on linen, 101 x 81 cm, 2012
Hummer Acrylic and socks on canvas, 168 x 198 cm, 2013
“When I made my first sock painting, I had the following revelation: “As I stare at this painting, it stares back at me, and as I stand here in my two socks, so does the painting hang there in its many socks. That seemed absolutely absurd, and therein somehow startlingly profound.” Aaron Johnson, August 2013. In 1955, the late Robert Rauschenberg created his Bed, which is one of his first “combines,” the artist’s term for attaching found objects, such as tires or old furniture, to a traditional canvas support. In Bed, he took his old pillow, sheet, and quilt – and splashed them with paint in a style similar to that of Abstract Expressionist “drip” painter Jackson Pollock. Rauschenberg famously said: “Painting relates to both art and life… and I try to act in that gap between the two.” Bed, which he hung on the wall like a traditional painting, is such an object between art and life and remains a weird kind of Rauschenberg-self-portrait. Aaron Johnson’s new paintings are related to Rauschenberg’s work and operate between art and life, but they are not self-portraits. On the contrary, they are portraits of many people from all over the world and what Johnson describes as “collective consciousness transmitters”. For these new works, Johnson has collected thousands of socks through an exchange: the artist made repeated calls for socks through social media, and in exchange for socks mailed to his studio, he mailed drawings to hundreds of sock donors. In this manner, the paintings are completely dependent upon contributions, and on the flow of drawings going out in exchange. The socks are artifacts of journeys, steps taken, paths walked. In Johnson’s words the socks play the role of talisman, a magical object: embedded within each sock is a bit of spiritual DNA of the wearer, ghosts of steps taken by a multitude of feet. Following this logic, the paintings are composite structures that contain the collective consciousness of the sock donors, and in turn the consciousness is transmitted to the viewer. An exploration into the transcendental, transformative power of art, Johnson repurposes the humble, banal, common sock into potent ingredients for paintings as portals designed to break open heads. While the politics of his work has shifted, no longer making works about political horrors, but rather making works in spite of political horrors, this work springs forth from a desire for transcendence. Seeking beauty through lunacy, Johnson describes these Sock Paintings as “collective consciousness transmitters in the spirit of democracy”. These new paintings are encrusted with an impasto of old socks. Taking a comedic stab at the fetishization of the painterly surface, the sock is a found object brush stroke, a ready made paint. Following an initial absurdist and irreverent impulse to stick a sock into the sacred space of the canvas, the Sock Paintings proliferated in a playful exploration of painterly madness. Playing with the role of artist as visionary lunatic, in this series Johnson has abandoned his recognized style to allow a volcanic eruption of socks and paint to gush into a whole new realm of painting. In his Sock Paintings, Johnson dismantles and reconstructs the artist’s sense of self in an act of radical painterly reinvention. This change in Johnson’s painting practice marks a seismic shift from the intricate slick to the hard-core expressionistic, a replacing of delicate detailed notes with aggressive power-chords. The psychedelic comic grotesqueries distinctive to Johnson’s work over the years remain central in this newest expression of his vision; now we see it played out in a phantasmagoria of socks. The surfaces of these works are seemingly alive like squirming flesh, as the viewer is confronted with the socks like a sea of shed skins. Tom Hermansen, MA (History of Art), Art Critic
Pin Up Acrylic, socks, and polyester net on linen, 56 x 71 cm, 2012
Headless Horseman Acrylic and socks on canvas, 168 x 198 cm, 2013.
Smiler Acrylic and socks on linen, 168 x 198 cm, 2013
Babooshka Acrylic and socks on linen, 30 x 30 cm 2013
Captain Acrylic and socks on linen, 30 x 30 cm 2013
Elf Acrylic and socks on linen, 30 x 30 cm 2013
Screamer Acrylic and socks on linen, 30 x 30 cm 2013
We The People Acrylic and socks on canvas, 127 x 162.5 cm, 2012
Double Scream Acrylic and socks on linen, 157.5 x 208 cm, 2013
Cheese Burger Acrylic and socks on canvas, 137 x 122 cm, 2013
Farmer Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Wise Guy Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Dandy Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Hill Billy Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Dog Man Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Chump Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Punchy Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Demon Acrylic and socks on linen, 51 x 41 cm, 2013
Clobber Head Acrylic and socks on linen, 198 x 168 cm, 2013
Haus Head Acrylic and socks on linen, 168 x 198 cm, 2013
Aaron Johnson CV Born 1975, St. Paul, Minnesota Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York EDUCATION 2005 Master of Fine Arts, Hunter College, New York, NY. 1999 Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY. 1998 National Academy of Design, New York, NY. 1997 Bachelor of Science, Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2013 Sock Paintings, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark 2012 Liberty Chomp, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011 Freedom from Want, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. 2010 Scars and Stripes, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2010 Don’t Be Scared, You’re Supposed to Be, Irvine Contemporary, Washington DC. 2008 Star-Crossed, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. 2008 Where the Buffalo Roam, Mogadishni, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2007 Love Songs for Demons, Mogadishni, Aarhus, Denmark. 2007 Hellhound Rodeo, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York, NY. 2005 Fiend Club Lounge, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York, NY. 2004 Bubblin’ Crude, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, Brooklyn, NY. GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2013 Hello Nasty, Cindy Rucker Gallery, New York, NY. The Wild Bunch, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Die Wunderkammer, The Lodge, New York, NY One Hundred Little Deaths, Bravin Lee Programs, New York, NY. 2012 Exquisite Corpses, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Like Comment Share, American University Art Museum Katzen Center, Washington DC. The Dirty Double Dozen, Freight and Volume, New York, NY. Piping Down the Valleys Wild, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. Drawn to You, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark 2011 Good Intentions, Hezi Cohen Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel. You Are Free, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, WUK Werkstaetten und Kulturhaus, Vienna, Austria. Facemaker, Royal T, Los Angeles, CA. Curated by Kathy Grayson. Sick!, Misc. Project, New York, NY. Bitches Brew, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Volta New York, represented by Galeria Mito, New York, NY. Desires, Nightmares, Dreams 2. Running Horse Contemporary Art Space, Beirut, Lebanon. 2010 Run and Tell That: New Work from New York, SU Art Galleries, Syracuse, NY. Big Picture, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York, NY. Dawn Frasch, Aaron Johnson, Wes Lang, Galleri Brandstrup, Oslo, Norway. The Irrascible Assholes, Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Bushwick Schlacht, Fortress to Solitude, Brooklyn, New York. You Are Free, The Tape Club, Berlin, Germany. Inflection, The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY.
The Antidote, Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY. The Rise and Fall of Excess Culture, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. 2009 Ridykeulouse Hits Bottom, Leo Koenig Projekte, New York, NY. Desires, Nightmares, Dreams. The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space, Beirut, Lebanon. Low Blow: and Other Species of Confusion, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. Octo Pusses, New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA. Tales of Wonder and Woe, Castle Gallery, New Rochelle, NY. 2008 Grotesque Histories, Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. From Head to Toe, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. Summer Exhibition, Marlborough Chelsea, New York, NY. 2007 Size Matters Part One: XS- Recent Small Scale Paintings, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY;(2008) Knoxville Museum of Contemporary Art, Knoxville TN Size Matters Part Two: XXL- Recent Large Scale Paintings, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY. Irrational Exuberance, Maddox Art, London, England. 2006 Summer Group Show, Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY. Six Degrees of Separation, Stux Gallery, New York, NY. 2005 New Art, New York: Reflections on the Human Condition, Trierenberg Holding AG, Traun, Austria. Kiss Me Long and Hard, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York, NY. Go Figure! JET Art Works, Washington DC. MFA Thesis Exhibition XXV, Hunter College Times Square Gallery, New York, NY. Group Show, Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 2004 On-Site - A Site-Specific Group Show, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, Brooklyn, NY. New American Talent- The 19th Exhibition, Art House Texas, Austin, TX, curated by Jerry Saltz. Surface Tension, Lombard-Freid Fine Arts, New York, NY. A Sense of Place, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, CO. 2003 Tits and Art 3, GV-AS Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Dirty Old Toy Box, Fluxcore Art Space, Brooklyn, NY. Love, Art, and War, Altman Gallery, New York, NY. 2002 Launch, Fluxcore Art Space, Brooklyn, NY. Memetics, Meme Project, New York, NY. AWARDS 2013 Yaddo Foundation Residency 2012 MacDowell Colony Fellowship 2006 Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Residency 2006 Chashama Studio Residency 2004 Graf Travel Grant, Hunter College, research trip to India. COLLECTIONS Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY
Howlers Acrylic, socks and polyester net on linen, 157,5 x 208 cm, 2013
Clobber Head Acrylic and socks on linen, 198 x 168 cm, 2013
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