In a 2004 review published in Artnews Magazine, the writer Susan Emerling, describes Mitchell Johnson as "a devoted colorist able to extract visual tension from the world around him". Mitchell Johnson (b.1964) moved to California from New York City in 1990 to work for the artist, Sam Francis. In New York, Johnson studied at Parsons School of Design with many former students of Hans Hofmann: Jane Freilicher, Leland Bell, Nell Blaine, Paul Resika, Larry Rivers and Robert De Niro, Sr. Johnson adopted their reverence for art history and their emphasis on drawing and painting from life as the source of a personal direction.
Johnson’s work draws on a vastness of experience and a persistent desire to make paintings that explain the world through color and shape. He has always moved seamlessly between abstraction and representation and the art historian Peter Selz described Johnson as an artist who makes “realist paintings that are basically abstract paintings and abstract paintings that are figurative.”
Beginning in the 1990s Johnson embarked on long painting expeditions to Italy, France and New Mexico with rolls of canvas packed in a golf bag like a modern day Corot. Wading through unfamiliar landscapes, often on foot, he worked to understand the ever complex geometry of land and sky. He prevailed not to capture some ideal sense of place, but to see better and to go deeper into painting.
Moments of revelation accumulated. A more personal direction became apparent in Johnson’s work in the 2000s as there was less reporting on what he was encountering and more emphasis on the mysteries of appearances. A watershed moment occurred in 2005 when Johnson stumbled on an Albers/Morandi exhibit. As Brenda Danilowitz from the Albers Foundation has commented:
“About halfway into Mitchell Johnson’s 2014 monograph, Color as Content, there’s a portfolio of Josef Albers and Giorgio Morandi paintings juxtaposed one to a page – looking at each other, so to speak. The images are not accompanied by words, but they speak eloquently of Johnson’s admiration of and debt to these two quiet yet lofty twentieth century masters. Albers shows his mastery of color, space, and form. Morandi answers with form, space and color. No words needed. In 2005 Johnson had come across an Albers exhibition in Morandi’s eponymous museum in Bologna and recognized that something remarkable occurred when these two unlikely comrades in art faced one another. The upshot resonates in Mitchell Johnson’s work of the past two decades: precisely and meticulously arranged color and form play off each other in
startling and lambent ways.”
In the 2000s Johnson began making regular trips to New England and Asia, in particular painting trips to Truro, Massachusetts. His paintings have been exhibited at various galleries in New York (Tatistcheff Gallery), Los Angeles (Terrence Rogers Fine Art), San Diego (Thomas Babeor Gallery), Santa Fe (Munson Gallery & Mitchell-Brown Fine Art)Richmond (Reynolds Gallery), Denver (Robischon Gallery), San Francisco (Hackett-Freedman and Campbell-Thiebaud), Chatham, Scottsdale (Cline Fine Art), Portland (Augen Gallery), Provincetown (Schoolhouse Gallery and DNA) and St. Helena (I Wolk Gallery) as well as numerous museums as referenced in his CV.
Johnson has been a visiting artist at The American Academy in Rome, Borgo Finocchieto, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Castle Hill in Truro, MA. In addition to attending Parsons, Johnson studied painting and drawing at Staten Island Academy, Randolph-Macon College, The Washington Studio School, The Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts and The New York Studio School. His paintings are in the permanent collections of 29 museums and over 700 private collections. Johnson is the subject of three monographs: Mitchell Johnson (2004, Terrence Rogers Fine art), Doppio Binario (2007, Musei Senesi) and Color as Content (2014 Bakersfield Museum of Art). A catalog for the 2021 Castle Hill exhibit is available at Amazon.com.