Contemporary Art Matters is pleased to present Flying Colors, a group show curated by Dion Johnson featuring five painters from Southern California: Rema Ghuloum, Pamela Jorden, Heather Gwen Martin, Michael Reafsnyder, and Dion Johnson. ‘A Closer Look’ will be held on Thursday, April 29 from 5-7pm, and the show will be on view through June 11, 2021. For more information on the exhibition, related events and forthcoming catalog, please contact us at email@example.com.
Southern California has a rich history of art movements from the second half of the 20th Century that distinguish it from New York and Europe. Beyond the warm climate, Modernist architecture, the motorcycle and surf life, and the early aerospace and entertainment industries that influence Southern California culture, there is a freedom to make something out of nothing, to pursue new ideas in art. Hard edge painting, geometric abstraction and California Minimalism are just a few of styles born there that continue to be interpreted by younger generations of artists. Perception and interest in light and space are concerns of this group of artists, along with notions of action and movement. While these ideas are investigated by artists around the world, the confluence of the unique environment, community and history set their art apart.
The show is full of small works, each a powerful little gem. Dion Johnson selected some of the most compelling abstract painters in Southern California that push painting forward and establish what California abstraction is today. The resulting show is simply gorgeous, one that demonstrates why LA is still one of the most important art centers.
Flying Colors is a group exhibition featuring five painters from Southern California: Rema Ghuloum, Pamela Jorden, Heather Gwen Martin, Michael Reafsnyder, and me, Dion Johnson. We all embrace color and abstraction, and our works are united by chromatic exploration and discovery. I believe in painting as a vital practice for artists and as a stimulating experience for viewers. When considering how to write about this exhibition I posed the question, what can a painting do?
Heather Gwen Martin’s paintings can fly. Second Glance 2019 defies gravity as three large shapes – one light blue, two bright red – twirl, glide, and float above a vast violet field. Appearing to be equal parts weightless liquid and propeller blades, these crisp hard-edge forms emanate from the center of the canvas and sprout slender tails. These delicate but determined appendages grow, detach, and intertwine in midair. As we step back to view the entire painting, we can see Second Glance in flight powered by idiosyncratic energy and ebullient colors.
Often composed with only a handful of shapes and colors, Martin’s paintings are deceptively complex and always in motion. The dynamics of carefully chosen elements range from clumsy and bashful to acrobatic and elegant. In her world, combinations of colors and shapes seem endless, and the relationship of trajectory and space continually evolves. I’m not quite sure where her paintings are from or where they might be traveling to, but their unpredictable movement captures our attention and makes us wonder.
Pamela Jorden makes paintings on shaped canvases. They may have an asymmetrical configuration combining angular and curved sides, or they may be a perfect circle. These concave and convex edges imply lenses and apertures. Looking at the segueing colors of Jorden’s circular-shaped painting Blue Arc 2020, I recall a childhood memory of holding a cat’s eye marble – fascinated by the sphere’s chromatic structure. Blue Arc’s composition dials clockwise and counterclockwise; these simultaneous and seemingly contradictory movements pull us in and set our eyes in motion. A vaporous yellow seems to envelop other stained hues and marks except for a defiant blue arc that orbits near the circumference. As I think about a colorful gaseous atmosphere and an orbiting movement, my thoughts teleport 500,000,000 miles away, and I imagine gazing at cloud patterns on the surface of Jupiter. Paintings can trigger a memory like time travel and stimulate our perception like teleportation.
Paintings can supercharge our reality. Revved up and ready to go Michael Reafsnyder’s canvases shimmer and vibrate. Gesturally applied wet into wet color defines the sliding and skipping surface of Swami’s Break 2020. This painting seems to amplify the idea of bright sunlight glistening across a greenish-blue ocean as cool water sprays and wet waves crash. Wedge Ride 2020 is pure momentum. Blues, magentas, oranges, and yellows slip and accelerate on different planes of shallow space that intersect, disappear, and re-emerge. Without a defined start/stop or entrance/exit, this painting stimulates our senses by dropping us into the middle of an exciting ride.
The notion of what you put into something is equal to what you get out of it holds true with Reafsnyder’s painting practice. Powered by whimsical joy and playful humor, each canvas is a unique event where liquid color smears, slippery material smushes, and wet paint glops. A carefree openness is fully synchronized with a razor-sharp awareness of how to move, react, and navigate into uncharted territory. Every painting is an energetic adventure, and the viewer is an active participant gazing at delightful spectacles and peering into supercharged experiences.
Painted with many thin translucent layers, Rema Ghuloum’s canvases present rich color fields. I think of her pieces as evolving environments where the effects of light, color, and space can alter our perception and heighten our senses. Brightly stained around the edges with a shadowy center, Lovers 2020 – 2021 is romantic chemistry in action. This painting’s saturated hues appear to be mixing on the surface with curving fluid paths to create a private nocturnal space. Ghuloum creates places that we’ve never seen before that somehow feel familiar and welcoming like a dream or déjà vu. Color is the defining element of these atmospheres where spatial shifts occur from piece to piece; some works appear to be miniature stages with vivid lighting and mysterious backdrops, while others seem to be aerial views that stretch and expand well beyond our periphery. The fiery orange and radiant red pallet of Red Moon 2019 – 2021 alludes to the luminous glow of a rare astrological alignment. Lover’s intimate setting and Red Moon’s magical light show us that paintings can enhance our emotional and environmental awareness.
I will close with another question, what can a painting be? A painting can be an invitation. It can be an invitation to a viewer to take a closer look at something they’ve never seen before or an invitation to a visual conversation with other paintings in a group exhibition. A painting can be an invitation for two artists to share a dialogue about their studio practices – in this respect, I’m excited to include a few insights from Los Angeles-based artist Liat Yossifor about my painting Activate 2020.
Dion Johnson’s painting Activate is sleek, polished, and intact, but only until it starts to reveal its cubist tendencies. In this world of planes and lines, I want to be lost in the magnificent manganese blue sky that is on the right side of the painting, but at the same time, I find myself busy undoing the folding sharp stripes to its center left.
The colors in the center left are jarring yet playful, organized into an accordion-like shape, packed tightly, holding a level of stress within. The more I look, the more the blue flawless sky to the right of the painting emerges as a picture of happiness; however, the picture of perfection is interrupted by these emotional edges and corners that don’t belong in a beautiful curvy and sunny California sky. This duality parallels my anxieties about perfection and beauty, in humans, in nature, in painting, and in the city where it was made. I want to sing to glossy surfaces, but I also ask why such elation and beauty must come into viewing in pieces.
I think that Dion Johnson is walking me into this dream about beauty, but also acknowledging that I might feel broken in front of it.
Dion Johnson uses color to evoke the contemporary urban, digital and natural landscape of Southern California, and skews the vocabulary of abstraction into a hybrid techno-language. His work is a clear balance of the harmonic and dissonant qualities in our environment. David Pagel wrote in a catalog essay:
“These seemingly calm arrangements of gently curved shapes, in a sumptuously saturated and wildly unnatural palette, are anything but wallflowers. They play with scale like nobody’s business, filling the empty space around them with inclusive, user-friendly snippets of imagined symphonies… Time does not stand still in these paintings so much as they suspend you in long drawn-out moments of acutely satisfying attentiveness.”
Dion Johnson is based in Los Angeles, California. Born in 1975 in Bellaire, OH, he attended Yale Norfolk Summer School of Music and Art, received his BFA from The Ohio State University and his MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Johnson’s work has been reviewed and featured in articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Artnews, and Artforum among others. Selected solo exhibitions include “Color Chords,” Western Project, Los Angeles, CA; “Luminous Trajectories,” Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, AZ; “Chromatic Momentum,” De Buck Gallery, New York, NY; and “Optic Energy,” Holly Johnson Gallery, Dallas, TX. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Twitter Inc., Santa Monica, CA; Capital Group Companies, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA; Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles, CA; and Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH.is gaining international attention with his photography that focuses on issues of identity, race and class in America and abroad. Jared has spent time teaching in South Africa and has made several series relating to the experience of living in Johannesburg and Cape Town.