Chris Johanson’s paintings, sculptures, and installations break down everyday scenes and commonplace dramas into colorful forms; the darkest sides of humanity are invoked with humor. The works comment on subjects such as capitalism, consumerism, the art world, and therapy. The triptych I Am a Human, Abstract Foil, No Humans IV (2004) is a meditation on the cosmos.
Chris Johanson’s Untitled (Painting of a Man Leaving in Boat) (2010) pictures a canoe drifting toward an off-kilter horizon line, which demarcates the cobalt sea from the cerulean sky. An orange-haired figure, oar positioned in mid-stroke, looks ahead—whether toward an edge or an infinite expanse, it is impossible to tell. Echoing a trope that recurs in Greek epic poetry, transcendental painting, and current-day reality television, the character is alone with nature. We witness—and likely empathize with—his voyage.
Apartment on Cardboard (2000) is an exterior view of an abstracted apartment building. Viewers unwittingly become voyeurs, peering through the rectangles that stand for windows and observing the residents therein, who ponder questions both mundane and existential: “Where is Ron now?” and “What have I become?” The queries and characters are treated democratically—not judged, praised, or subjected to hierarchy.
The prolific Chris Johanson produces paintings, zines, installations, and sculptures that are notable for their earnest, almost childlike abstraction. His work delves unabashedly into the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of human nature, tracking points of commonality and difference using simple shapes and lines as well as an unflagging sense of magnanimous humor.