“For one hundred years the most powerful aspect of space has been color. The one hundred years of the primacy of color is still only a beginning.” —Donald Judd
Painter-sculptor Gregory Johnston cites Judd among his main inspirations—in the illustrious company of Ad Reinhardt, Blinky Palermo, John McLaughlin, and others—but you’d be able to guess these influences yourself from viewing his most recent exhibition, “Chromatic Interactions,” at Chelsea’s Joshua Liner Gallery. Johnston is gaining a glowing reputation for his paintings that mix references to the titans of Geometric Abstraction, Color Field Painting, and Minimalism with the aesthetics and processes of industrial production—in the case of these recent works, borrowed from the automobile industry. And the results are resplendent, visual indulgences; eye candy with a serious bite.
Johnston’s works in “Chromatic Interactions” evoke the luxurious styling of iconic early sports cars manufactured by Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin, not only in their slick, reflective surfaces but also in the processes and materials from which they are created. In his “L’Inevitable Esponenziale” series, Johnston pays homage to Josef Albers’s “Homage to the Square” with compositions created from high-gloss, handpainted aluminum panels, nested within each other and cocked at various angles to heighten the interplay of the similar hues. His “Tableau Vivant” works, on the other hand, draw on the “squircle” (a real Cartesian shape used widely in mid-century Scandinavian design) to achieve similar chromatic effects from stacked panels of closely related colors, their soft corners evoking the rounded geometry of car hoods and bumpers.
Befitting an artist so consciously steeped in art history, Johnston’s works operate on more levels than their delightful visuals, albeit ones tied up in their physical properties. To achieve his machine-made perfection, the artist frequently relies on hand-sanding, -filing, and -painting, embedding a tension between man and machine into each panel he completes. But perhaps their most interesting element is best explained by the artist himself. “As much as this work revolves around formal aspects of color arrangement, these pictures are vivid and reflective,” he says. “They embody the properties of mirrors, reflecting every nuance and passerby, every onlooker. This subtle irony makes the work quintessentially 21st century—provocative, narcissistic and seductive.”