Johnson’s work draws on a vastness of experience and a persistent desire to make paintings that explain the world through color and shape. He has always moved seamlessly between abstraction and representation and the art historian Peter Selz described Johnson as an artist who makes “realist paintings that are basically abstract paintings and abstract paintings that are figurative.”
Mitchell Johnson moved to California from New York City in 1990 to work for the artist, Sam Francis. In New York, Johnson studied at Parsons School of Design with former students of Hans Hofmann: Jane Freilicher, Leland Bell, Nell Blaine, Paul Resika, Larry Rivers and Robert De Niro, Sr. Johnson adopted their reverence for art history and their emphasis on drawing and painting from life as the source of a personal direction.
Beginning in the 1990s Johnson embarked on long painting expeditions to Italy, France and New Mexico with rolls of canvas packed in a golf bag like a modern day Corot. Wading through unfamiliar landscapes, often on foot, he worked to understand the ever complex geometry of land and sky. He prevailed not to capture some ideal sense of place, but to see better and to go deeper into painting.
Johnson has been a visiting artist at The American Academy in Rome, Borgo Finocchieto, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Castle Hill in Truro, MA. In addition to attending Parsons, Johnson studied painting and drawing at Staten Island Academy, Randolph-Macon College, The Washington Studio School, The Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts and The New York Studio School. His paintings are in the permanent collections of 29 museums and over 700 private collections. Johnson is the subject of three monographs: Mitchell Johnson (2004, Terrence Rogers Fine art), Doppio Binario (2007, Musei Senesi) and Color as Content (2014 Bakersfield Museum of Art). A fourth monograph, Where The Colors Are, will be published in summer 2021.
TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS EPISODE:
-current exhibition at Pamela Walsh
-the large paintings did not happen overnight, it took time to cultivate
-Working with people from 9th Street Women
-Working with Leland Bell
- Introduced to the questions he would spend his career working on
-Working for Frank Stella & Sol LeWitt
-Traveling through Italy and France
-Smaller paintings and bigger paintings are different problems
-”What does the painting want?”
- Abstraction and Representation
-”Make the painting feel special”
-Keep enjoying the struggle
-curious about transformation
-On some level the paintings must sustain you on an emotional level