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 educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in America, Arts, Art News, Art Press(Paris), Sculpture Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.
view all articles from this author