Studio Visit: Aaron Johnson

aaron sitting in front of 2 new paintings Aaron Johnson’s sunny Brooklyn studio is full of riotous, colorfully undulating, larger-than-life monsters.   He’s getting ready for a show that opens next week.  Luckily, he had some paintings in progress so we can see how he puts his paint on.  Known for making paintings that are both incredibly gorgeous and politically aggressive, Johnson continues to develop and has upped the ante with his new work.  Now he’s including Old-Master appropriations, political satire, religious abominations, gender-benders, and personal references, all played out in monstrous iconography.  aaron holding barnaby whitfield Aaron has a 2-person show with Barnaby Whitfeld titled “Don’t Be Scared You’re Supposed to Be” opening on May 1st in Washington DC at Irvine Contemporary.  The painting in progress Aaron is holding, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” is his portrait of Barnaby.  It’s loaded with references to both their work.  He had a lot of nice things to say about Whitfeld, and they’ve been sending photos of work in progress back and forth in preparation for the show.  One of the best parts of this painting is a ghostly erection poking out of a vagina dentata, which is ejaculating a spermy ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln is then peeing on a flag draped Whitfeld. penis


madonna in progress This is an in progress painting, “Milk,” based on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “Madonna and Child Under the Apple Tree.” maddona in progess behind Here’s the same painting from behind.  Aaron has a really unusual technique: “Reverse Painted Acrylic Polymer Peel Paintings”.  He blogged about his process a couple years ago.  Using acrylic paint on clear plastic he creates a painting backwards.  This allows him to create really amazing effects that would be impossible if painted normally.  I can see this technique turning into something a lot of people rip off borrow, because it works so well.  When the painting is finished he peels it off the plastic support, and then adheres it to a very tough netting on a stretcher.

aaron_johnson-bad_precedent-serigraph-nowherelimited Aaron’s got a hot new print out.

halloween 2 “Sick Muse,” is based on a photo taken last Halloween of Johnson and his sometime collaborator Dawn Frasch.  Aaron went dressed as a zombie transvestite nurse, Un-Dead Dawn’s costume involved a monster-baby-fetus that had bored out of her womb and is eating her face.  Johnson explained that he went in drag because Frasch would think it’s hot, and as a nurse because she might need some medical help with that fetus eating her face. halloween detail Close up of the monster-baby-fetus eating face. halloween source Here is the source photo. collab drawing with dawn frasch 2 Johnson/Frasch collaborative drawing. pres b Johnson captured the zeitgeist of the artworld a few years ago when he depicted George Bush as a Goyaesque pink bat creature. bronzino A painting after Bronzino’s “Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time.” madonna in progress detail Although Johnson grew up in white-bread Minnesota, one side of his family was Christian missionaries living in India three generations back, so he grew up in a house full of Indian art. Knowing about Johnson’s family history adds another layer to consider with his work.  It’s also interesting to know that his undergraduate degree, before he decided to be an artist, is in Molecular and Cellular Biology.  All that background melds together in his work.  He uses big culture symbols as something monstrous, hence the cyclops Jesus anally raping a complacent Statue of Liberty!   Is Johnson being critical of the way we twist the meaning of our symbols, and sort of shoving it in our face?  That’s my guess. aaron in front of jesus fucking statue of liberty

psychadelic nipple


intestine Faberge egg like monster worm. gnarly eyeball

barnaby detail

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  • Aaron Johnson is one of the best painters working today. See one in person and it changes the way you think about painting. He is an awesome dude too.

  • great post, thank you

  • Great stuff, Beatriz Milhazes works with a similar method I believe

  • Aaron’s work is amazing. Thanks for the great images, especially the close-ups. Love it!

  • detailed to the max, thanks for the post Bill

  • These are some seriously intense and weird paintings Aaron. Good luck with the show!

  • Glad you guys like the post. It was great to visit Aaron’s studio.