Christopher Johns, Racine
2020–21 RAM Artist Fellowship Award Recipient
Photography: Camela Langendorf, Varitay Studios
Christopher Johns was born in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1952, and passed away in spring of 2021. Johns’ successful career path included teaching, artist-in-residence positions, awards, and a lengthy exhibition history. He began his university education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee but, after two years, transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute where he earned a BFA in painting in 1975. In 1977, he earned an MFA in painting from Stanford University, California. In the summer of 1979, he accepted a position at Louisiana State University to teach painting and drawing.
Johns had his first solo show in 1980 at Bienville Gallery in New Orleans and his work was subsequently featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the country. In 1999, he was an artist-in-residence at the David and Julia White Artists’ Colony in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica. Johns received various awards throughout his lifetime, including a Visual Artists’ Fellowship from the State of Louisiana and a Visual Artists’ Fellowship from the Southern Arts Federation/National Endowment for the Arts.
My work focuses on the space between abstraction, imagination, and reality. I am constantly searching for shapes that spark an association with an image. This association should hint at what the image is without overtly defining it.
The Torso/Trunk Series is a continuation of the work that I have exhibited for the past several years. I am interested in the visual relationship between the human torso and the trunk of a tree. This began in 1999 when I was an artist in residence in Costa Rica. It would rain each day in August at one in the afternoon. I would stand before large windows and watch as droplets ran down the trunks of the pine trees and into the ginger plants. It was mesmerizing. The work that I did at that time tried to replicate and abstract what I witnessed.
The shape that was inspired by a tree trunk then sparked my interest in the figure. I found the relationship, or perhaps the association of the trunk of a tree with the human torso, to be fascinating. This shape gives me a chance to play with the varieties of color, tone, and texture that both torsos and trunks have in common.
My method has always been to work within a limited set of shapes and marks in an attempt to discover the minute changes from piece to piece. Making art is a journey that never ceases to astound me and, certainly, never bores me.