The Harmonious Marriage of Color and Wood

West Branch Gallery
Dec 16, 2014 10:30PM

Writing in the magazine Art Papers in 2009, critic Diana McClintock wrote, “Johnson’s new works are paintings in the same way that Robert Rauschenberg’s combine paintings of the late 1950’s were. Though emphatically assembled out of wood, they are composed according to the intuitive logic of abstract painting.”

But where the crux of Rauschenberg’s paintings hinged on the juxtaposition of elements, the success of Johnson’s paintings is rooted in the harmonious coming together of his source material.

His work is marked by expert craftsmanship and skilled woodworking. He described his process in an interview with Kolaj Magazine in 2012. “I bring the wood back to my studio, then I clean it, pull the nails out of it, sand it a little bit of it, if it is rough, and then I cross-cut it on my mitre saw at 20” lengths, then I slice into 2-3” widths on my table saw. Then I flip it over and I cut it down to 1/4” thick board or 3/16”. I let them dry a little bit. And then I run them through my sanders. I have a couple of sanders that get them into a more uniform thickness. I take colors that I like and I glue them together and then sand them again so they are more ready to work with. I started out with panels that didn’t have plywood on them. They were strips, like joists from a house, or wall studs, but then I quickly realized that I could put plywood over the whole thing and make the process more uniform and faster.”

“It’s an arrangement. When I started, I was doing zero planning. I would nail down a piece in the center of the board and start working out and see what happens. The composition evolved really naturally. Now, when I put the pieces down, I put them down loose. I play with them a little bit until I feel something. I’m a little more directed in my approach now. The materials are all as close as I can get them. Because I can only sand one side, I can never get them perfect. To me, I’m comfortable with the state that they’re in and the state of finish. As you get closer, you start to see the little differences in the surface and it really informs what it is. But as you back away, the differences disappear. It becomes more uniform. It provides you a different visual experience at different levels.”

And that is how Duncan Johnson’s works come into being: solid craftsmanship married with a painter’s intuition. The results are a celebration of the harmonious marriage of color and wood.

West Branch Gallery