Femi J. Johnson, Public Display of Affection, 2018

Femi J. Johnson, Public Display of Affection, 2018, acrylic on canvas; 30 x 30 in.

Femi J. Johnson mixes colors carefully, and he does not use paint from the tube. He paints what he has absorbed recently or flashes of memory. Understanding the content of his paintings is not a prerequisite for enjoying them. Big patches of color referring to seasons or moods balance smaller, incidental vignettes lifted from paint studies or made up on the spot. Public Display of Affection is divided into a quasi-figurative beige zone and a blue background, seeming to harbor Beauty and the Beast at its center, but there are no other clues to support that story. Openly painted shapes and wayward drawing separate color, space, and line as if grading them. Globs that resemble palette scrapings of mixed colors congeal on flat, thinly painted expanses, stoutly defining the foreground.

Johnson calls his works “abstract storyscapes,” since they commence with the painting of figures and landscapes but leave off before images or spaces solidify. Blocks that might be heads, trees, or painting palettes soon falter, returning the spotlight to the pigments mixed earlier: Conserved, relaxed, majestic color that predates and will outlive all the eventualities in the middle.

Part of Passing Bittersweet, a 2020 exhibition at the Williams Center Gallery. Find more of Femi J. Johnson’s work on his website.