Barbara Johnson

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Biography: Barbara Johnson

“The best of [her works] brought tears to my eyes. If there’s one thing in the world more beautiful than fluency, it’s the love of one’s work that fights its way through to something like song.”

-Patricia Wright
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Barbara Johnson received her B.F.A. in Painting from Indiana University and her M.F.A. in Printmaking from the University of Massachusetts. She has exhibited widely, including galleries and shows in Boston, New York, Mexico City, Berlin, and Singapore, and recently presented a solo exhibition of her work, “Poetics of Place,” at the Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, Massachusetts, and earlier “Earth Magic: Transformations of the Real,” at the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. She has taught at the Academy of Realist Art in Seattle, the Hartford Art School, Smith College, the University of Maryland, and the University of California. Acclaimed for its fervently generous embrace of the revelatory now, her work currently hangs in private collections in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Boston, and Western Massachusetts.

Influences

Like the Renaissance painters who have influenced her work, Barbara Johnson is engaged in a celebration of the “transcendent real.” In love with the world and the transformations it occasions, she produces paintings that evoke what might be called an ecstatic appreciation of the extraordinary that dwells within the ordinary.

Johnson draws inspiration from the natural beauty of the Connecticut River Valley, demonstrating her affinity with the so-called “Valley Realists,” including the late Gregory and Frances Cohen Gillespie. Reflecting her engagement with the techniques of classical painting, her work speaks to the influence of the 17th-century Dutch masters and the Spanish artists Cotán and Zurburan, and delves deeply into the mysterious realms of the Italian Renaissance painters Giorgione and Titian.

Still Lifes and Portraits

Johnson paints in a variety of genres, creating still lifes, portraits, landscapes, interiors, and narrative paintings. Frequently focused on a single object, her still lifes, pulsing with inner light, hint at the possibility of an inchoate consciousness animating everyday objects. Likewise, her portraits conjure up the psychological essence of her subjects. Using candid poses and classical techniques that convey an almost palpable emotional atmosphere, Johnson goes beyond mere “photographic” reproduction to capture and then reveal the private, luminous self.

Landscapes and Narratives

Nowhere is this exploration of the unseen real more evident than in her landscapes and narrative paintings, where she probes the mystery of nature by evoking archetypal scenarios that illuminate the experience of children absorbed in the natural world. As Nina Bander, art critic for the Greenfield Recorder, has written, “It is not just the technical skill with which she calls forth the richness of childhood that is so strong about the narratives. Also striking is the way the action continues to roll forward beyond the moment depicted.” The natural world Johnson creates appears to exist independently of the viewer, the canvas, and even the artist herself -- a kind of parallel dimension of heightened experience and epiphany.

Interiors

This same sense of altered time permeates the interiors which form Johnson’s most recent work. Captured in the rapt stillness of a single moment, her interior places convey a palpable impression of life, temporarily absent but eternally present. We come to understand that the visible world is not the only world, this moment is not the only moment, and that what we don’t see is as real as what we do.

Technique

In all of her paintings, Johnson balances color and light to express the inner reality of her subjects, achieving a transcendence of meaning that reveals the ideals behind the forms. Her mastery of the techniques and style of Renaissance painting, applied to contemporary subject matter, produces strikingly detailed representations of the visible world, making it at once familiar and strange. Employing the techniques of glazing transparencies and applying translucent and opaque areas of paint, she succeeds in rendering the qualities of light, atmosphere, and texture that are the hallmarks of the visual experience, while her bold use of color and geometry calls to mind the 14th-century Sienese painters and their own celebrations of the sacred.