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The work of Nova Scotia based Johnson has been exhibited and collected widely in Canada and abroad including the including, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery Fredericton, NB, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Art Gallery of Calgary, the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and the Museum of Contemporary Art(MOCCA), Toronto.
Following is an excerpt from the press release for his 2006 exhibition at WTG:
“Embued with a tough beauty, Johnson’s work focuses on the urban edges, railway lands, highway and railway overpasses, city skylines, sometimes moving further into the rural expanses of the Maritimes. As a young contemporary painter working with current painting issues, Johnson says that he also references past artists in his work. “ ‘—how they make marks on the canvas, how they compose their paintings’ —-In Johnson’s paintings the buildings are represented by single brush strokes. Up close, they appear to be simple strokes of colour. But view the painting from further away, and these transform into buildings, roads and bridges–” The Daily News, Halifax.
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery presented the first public gallery exhibition of Johnson’s work in 2005. Johnson’s teacher and mentor, Gerald Ferguson, wrote the introduction for the exhibition pamphlet. Here it is in full.
“Once in a great while a teacher encounters a student that has full command of painting skills. All that remains is to offer the suggestion of an accent here or the weight of a mark there to strengthen the work. Teaching then is no longer a job but a pleasurable exercise in connoisseurship. Jonathan Johnson was such a student. In the years following his graduation from NSCAD I have followed his work closely and rarely can I now offer a suggestion to improve his work.
It seems that the lesson of art history directs most students toward the Modernist notion of progress in art causing them to look for a novel device or subject only to remain adrift with few, if any, references to measure the quality of their work. Jonathan ignores that Modernist notion by choosing an established convention. Working as a landscape painter he is not only honouring a tradition, but is able to measure himself by comparing what he does with a myriad of examples available to him first hand. Only when there is something to compare to can true progress be made. With subject matter as a given, one is left to ponder the how of painting. In all painting it is never the what but the how that tells you the difference between good and bad painting. One can comment on the subject matter of Michelangelo or Monet’s paintings but that is not an artistic question. To judge the artistic merit of their work you must turn to how their paintings were executed. Only then can you know if they did it well, or very well, and occasionally, not so well at all.
It is on that basis we are able to judge the paintings of Jonathan Johnson. Through our shared experience in looking at landscape paintings we intuit how good the how of his work is and we come away agreeing that his paintings are very good.”
Exhibitions from 2002-2012: on the archived WTG site.