The title of Matthew Johnson’s new body of work is Illume. This beautiful word describes physical enlightening. In the context of this exhibition, it may also connote an emotional and mental positivity.
The canvases here on display take as their focus the notion of place and environment as relating to emotions and senses – a kind of psychological ‘cartography’, in which various natural forms are suggested and then filtered through a painting process which dissolves and fragments them. They remain poetic rather than descriptive. The viewer is swept into the arrangements of sumptuous colour as if in a dream of place. The effect is both visionary and hallucinatory as various sections suggest recognisable, tangible forms, even as they deliquesce into glowing haze. The images exist in a liminal realm between the real and the imaginary - on deep level they are paintings about painting - visual metapoetics.
Soft focus colours meld through an initial grid-work, indicating depths and shallows – forming a kind of blurred pixilation through which meaning and description become ultimately redundant under the service of Painting itself. The intense violets; minty greens; vivid vermillions; fiery yellows; blushing, roseate carmines, in these paintings form ravishing pictorial tableaux, reminding us of the artist’s long-held mastery of colour.
In one painting, Johnson extends the notion of ‘illumination’ by setting glass microbeads across the surface. In normal light conditions, this gives the painting a delicate, ‘frosted’ appearance. But when purposefully lit, as here, it has, in his words, the effect of “extending the possibility of raking light”, as well as “the possibilities of a painting as an object.” This beautiful surface pulls light into itself and ‘emits’ it into the room, subtly-charged with the glowing colours that lie beneath.
The titles and subtitles that Johnson employs for these paintings are redolent of myth, legend and arcana. Ara is Latin for ‘altar’; coincidentally, it is also a mountain in Armenia, a lake in Norway, and the name of a constellation. Pharos was the ancient lighthouse in Alexandria – one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A Sylph is a spirit of the air. Geomancy is divination from the configuration of a handful of earth or random dots.
This exhibition takes the viewer on a journey through the intersection of psychology, geography and light, conjuring a host of emotional responses along the way.