Matt Johnson @ Alison Jacques Gallery

Alison Jacques Gallery presents the second solo show of American artist Matt Johnson. Spanning the gallery’s main exhibition space on the ground floor as well as some additional side space and a small room upstairs, the exhibition includes six brand new works in total.

A 3m tall, 5m long wooden model of a baby Apatosaurus dinosaur dominates the main downstairs space, in direct dialogue with the granite Stone Nose, while in the adjacent room we find the patinated bronze Python Attacking a Bull covered with white paint and the Stone with Bicycle. The upstairs room is host to the Paper Sculpture 2 (Arch) made with brass and solder, and 33 Piece Kumiki constructed with redwood.

Johnson’s narrative portrays the perpetual conflict between matter and time and the latter’s inexorable impact on every aspect of life. By assembling his Apatosaurus with Californian redwood, a type of tree that apparently belongs to the same family of trees synchronous with dinosaurs, the artist refabricates the image of a life form from the earth’s distant past. The utilisation of parts from a possibly concurrent source of food for an alternative reconstruction of this herbivore, embraces a time bridge equating the two entities.

An analogous disposition is imbued in the rest of the works on the ground floor. The decayed granite nose, fragment of an imaginary colossal statue, and the animal scene (we are informed by the exhibition literature that this is in reference to the work of 19th century French bronze sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye) with its intense corrosive effect, are both somewhat of an underlying memento mori. Death, decay and reclaiming of matter are part of a wider process that characterises existence on this planet. And this is exactly what Johnson may be implying with his convolutingly merged bicycle and stone sculpture. Here, two phenomenically perceivable different objects are amalgamated into one, only to realise that they are not so different from one another after all. They are both part of this corporeal world, imprisoned in their own hypostasis and unable to escape from unavoidable erosion and decline.

The two pieces upstairs compliment the idiosyncrasy of the rest of the works by adding not only the elements of the ephemeral and fragility but also that of infinitude. Johnson, in a noticeably playful mood, embodies his philosophical explorations in stimulating representations of organic and non-organic substances. His works appear as echoes of transient shadows, minutiae in this world’s ever-changing and impermanent nature; a seamless process of recycling that the human kind is ineffectual and often impotent to come to terms with.

Matt Johnson talked to REVma -/+ about his exhibition and work:

REVma -/+: What is your relation with Classical sculpture and how has this influenced your work?
M.J.: I have always thought that Classical sculpture is incredible, and that it was created so recently. A few thousand years isn’t that long ago; especially when considering the age of the marble that was often carved, being more like millions of years old. I feel Classical sculpture is really quite close to us as opposed to being off in the distance in history. Like it was just around a corner or staring back at us like reflections in a window. It’s inescapable and brilliant.

REVma -/+: Your narrative references the past from today’s point of view. To what extent do your employed media reflect this.
M.J.: Well I often use materials that have a history to them. I like infusing my sensibilities into materials and objects that are already loaded with time on this earth. It’s like the material is meeting me halfway. But sometimes it is something fresh and new and maybe a bit fragile that I’m after. Bronze can work well in this case as an attempt to preserve a moment in time from inevitable decay. Often relationships are made between the past and present in my work, be it my choice of material use or subject matter, it is omnipresent, just as this same connection I think pervades all contemporary life. The ability to have the awareness of what once was as well as what may soon be, is part of what makes humans unique.

REVma -/+: There is an underlying element of playfulness and humour in your work commingled with the solemnity of time and it’s properties. Which of the two do you think your audiences perceive the most in your work?
M.J.: I’m not sure, I know people talk about the humour they see more than they mention any connection to mortality, but that’s also a much easier subject to talk about. Life being more fun than death. These two things are seen at odds but what is revealed is the cycle that inextricably links and binds one to the other.

REVma -/+: You are a young artist and have exhibited in numerous countries and galleries worldwide. How do you see your art evolving in the near future?
M.J.: Well art is always something that is in flux, constantly evolving and trying to become more aware and prescient. I feel it is important to push one’s ability and not settle in contentedness with one’s practice. To propel it forward every day by striving to locate and uncover deeper meanings that hopefully may become evident to you.