Steve Johnson - Altered StatesExhibition in the gallery studio. Opening on March 10th, 2019.
There is a diversity of imagery and technique in ‘Altered States’, reflecting the period over which these works were made. The exhibition brings together a selection of prints made over 10 years using different forms to express different ideas and subjective states.
The title of the exhibition, chosen by the artist, refers to the way in which ubiquitous common places like domestic interiors or city parks, and basic activities like eating, are given a twist. There is an altered perspective in visualizing the ‘everyday’ and one that is intended to provoke thoughts about what lies beneath the surface of things. What’s under the floor? What’s under the pavement? What’s under the food?
Stereotypical popular meals from 6 EU member states are very precisely served up on broken plates, saucers, bowls, cups and wine glasses. Classic meals from England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden are presented. The meals were all lovingly prepared and cooked by the artist using kitchen utensils and then the crockery and glass broken by the artist with a hammer prior to ‘plating up’.
Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace and prosperity ever in its history. The rise of populism, nationalism and the ultra right across Europe (and the globe) has an alarming echo of the 1930’s. Brexit is symptomatic of this collective historical amnesia.
In these 6 prints the aim is to conflate abundance and plenty with destruction, and beauty with violence. The civility of white porcelain morphs into shrapnel.
In addition to various other prints with a twist on perspective in the exhibition, a video in which the artist talks about his sculptures is shown. The video corresponds with four prints of the artist's watercolour drawings. In these the artist imagines exposing deep-time as an island on which we live, work, and play. A comparison is drawn between time as we experience it day to day on the surface, and millennia. Deep-time is an archaeological term referring to the physical accumulation of material, the terra firma, created over millions of years. Time here is not an abstract idea, but observable, a lump of stuff. It is time that can be measured in centimetres and metres.
These images are a contemporary allusion to the ‘Vanitas’ Still Life painting tradition begun in Flanders and Holland in the 16th century. That tradition consisted of arrangements of objects like skulls, mirrors, flowers, butterflies, candles, hour-glasses and books, to be painted in near forensic detail. This is updated by Steve Johnson to include the built environment. The prints show pedestrian islands and road surfaces, building sites (specifically a vacant site behind a blue hoarding in readiness for a new beginning), and a park with an imbiss in winter and springtime.
The sentiment is the same. The viewer is reminded of the transience and uncertainty of life. It is implied that we make the most of our brief allotted time, and to be prudent with it.