About James Henry Johnston
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He has also been featured by BBC News.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
James Henry Johnston is an Irish, Swansea-based expressionist painter influenced by Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, German expressionists such as Max Beckmann, in his use of colour by Harold Gilman and the psychological nature of his work by Edward Munch and Francis Bacon.
More recent influences include painters of "discombobulated" images and his work shares a similar fascination with how altering the human face has such pronounced effect on our emotions, allowing us to get past the figurative profile to emotions, to the existential essence of the portrait; to get beneath the mask.
It is through image distortion or chromatic dissonance that we are moved beyond superficial figurative representation to being moved. Art as expressing what we share, what makes us human, about conveying emotional resonance. This idea dictates how he paints, increasingly with palette knife, to urgently convey a feeling. The human face is the most potent primary image. Looking at another person’s face reveals as much about ourselves as the painting. It reflects us. We relate to how the face or human figure is distorted, it effects our equilibrium and as such moves us. This is a fundamental idea in James Henry Johnston’s work.
Recently James embarked on my "Sinister
Selfies" project of paintings which distorts the idea of selfies. Instead
of being snapshots of rampant narcissism in various sunny or celebratory
locations, they instead invite and allow the viewer into a world which implies
darker human realities such as addiction, co-dependency, trauma, terror, abuse,
disgust, self loathing, disintegration of self and dissociation.
Instead of snapshots of mindless self idolatry these sinister selfies give us a peak into other's lives and their discordant emotions and psychology and also into our shared communally lives generally and more presciently.
They reveal the aspects of self and humanity we would rather hide away, the sometimes unpalatable, even disturbing reality behind the facade we maintain in public.
Essentially James uses an icon of our time, the Smartphone “selfie”, to turn a our gaze onto so-called darker elements of the human condition, mainly using heightened vibrant colour, distorted imagery and odd sized canvas.
He also finished a series of “Mask” paintings which were based on the idea that people to hide their real selves and feelings and these paintings were almost exclusively oil and palette knife, painting quickly and unconsciously to create emotional states which revealed themselves as a product of the painting process.
James has also started to paint landscape and still life and these paintings also radiate with an emotional intensity, borne out of moods present during the creative process. Like the portraits, these express feelings in relation to the subject materials, feelings revealed during the creative process and feelings embodied in the moods that push the palette knife or brushstrokes. It is all about moving beyond form and representation to essence, to expressing the creative moment as purely as possible. It is process driven not product based.