Elisa Johns: Huntress
Mike Weiss Gallery
April 8 – May 8, 20100
Reviewed by Robert C. Morgan
Looking o’er these tantalizing huntresses by Elisa Johns suggests a nod toward Classical poesy. As for the feminine instinct turned vernacular, I would argue in favor of the sublime – of which Ms. Johns is clearly pursuing her ends. Her retort emerges through painting as a vehicle that drives through the whiteness of surface elixir, thereby arriving safely on the ground among dead branches and twigs. This exhibition is indeed what its manner doth proclaim – namely, the Huntress socialite, the conflict of placement between psyche and tremor, the ghoulish phantasm that beckons or harkens the enfolded to unfold. And there’s the rub, the sullen trace of originality once left behind offers the artist her dignity to beguile Classicism back on the premises. The tale has been told before, and here it appears again without remorse or stealthy deification. Ms. Johns quickens the pace of it all from Athena to Pallas, her self-endowed opponent, to the raging rip-roaring gaze of Judith, the head-chopper, toward Holofernes, being the glutton of a coy revenge.
Who could not be charmed by this show? It opens a new threshold, a transformative defiance of the pitiless conformity that binds the market on the dark side of eagerness, the deep trenches that miss the uneven point of art: that to become something, the artist must traverse the commonplace and offer a new syntax to older vocabularies. Ms. Johns probes her own path. She paints like a whistle. Who could miss the inextricable delicacy of Athena seated next to the victorious Nike twixt the dry branches of history? Hark! The fallen leaves, the tales left behind, given another place and time. Who could miss the evanescent mystery of Judith’s red boots upon her return to Bethulia? Succulent morsels, they are – like fish captured o’er the ridge of time. And speaking of time, note the Great Horned Owl lurking in stride, as a crescent moon lies somewhere hidden in the sheaves. The purr of the Lion and his Lioness, neither victims nor intruders of the Huntress, become self-same symbols of Nature’s infinite guardianship.
The paintings of Elisa Johns move in another fertile cadence from what is expected at this austere juncture. They feel right in their extrapolation of what is new. The tender graces that inhabit them are fraught with power, with innocence, and self-assurance, awaiting the dawn, where the enemy trods timidly by. They are paintings to watch, to nurture and ultimately to beckon forth.
Robert C. Morgan is an artist, scholar, poet, teacher, and author. Considered an authority on early Conceptual Art, Dr. Morgan has lectured widely, written literally hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published several books, and curated numerous exhibitions. In 1992, he was appointed as the first critic-in-residence at Art Omi International Artists Residency, where in 2016, he was honored as Critic Emeritus. In 1999, he was awarded the first ARCALE prize in International Art Criticism in Salamanca (Spain), and the same year served on the UNESCO jury at the 48th Biennale di Venezia. In 2002, he gave the keynote speech in the House of Commons, London on the occasion of Shane Cullen’s exhibition celebrating the acceptance of “The Agreement” by the UK. In 2003, Dr. Morgan was appointed Professor Emeritus in art history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and, in 2005, became a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In 2011, he was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg; and, in 2016, the Department of Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, purchased The Robert C, Morgan Collection of Conceptual Art. Much of his work since the late 1990s has focused on art outside the West in the Middle East and East Asia where his books have been translated and published into Farsi (Tehran: Cheshmeh, 2010), Korean (Seoul: JRM, 2007), and Chinese (Beijing: Hebei, 2013). Dr. Morgan has worked extensively in China with contemporary ink artists and has authored many catalogs and monographs on Chinese artists. In addition to his scholarly, he continues a parallel involvement as an artist and abstract painter (since 1970) with a major survey exhibition at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico City (March 23 – April 29, 2017). His work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and is included in several important collections.
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