In Bill Johnson’s art, I love how sometimes it takes me a little time and close examination to figure out whether a figure is present or not in each painting. Especially in Nineteen Are Dying That Have Never Died Before and The Oyster and Martha Go Sailing. Each painting exhibits the mysterious quality of perceived intentional figures where no intention can be pinpointed. This occurrence brings to mind the concept of Pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon in which people see faces and patterns in a random stimulus—like how people see faces in the rocks of the moon. However, this also recalls the concept of Anamorphosis, in which the viewer has to occupy a specific vantage point to see words or images in a large layout of random objects. Both 'phenomena' share the key trait of: at first I'm hidden, and then I'm found. To explain generally, this means the act of discovering something recognizable in perceived randomness. The key difference to point out is Pareidolia occurs naturally, while Anamorphosis is constructed deliberately. So, either they’re painted intentionally or painted unintentionally. Unintentionally would mean painted with no intention to create figures, which would mean that a Pareidolia was authentically and organically created. Intentionally would mean that the perception of randomness is created while constructing a deliberate figure or scene layout — more closely resembling a 2d interpretation of an Anamorphosis. Where Bill’s art exists for me is a man-made Pareidolia with slight intention. A true Pareidolia exists in nature and most Anamorphosis pieces exist as obviously man made sculptures or creations. However, while Bill’s art is obviously man-made, it also exhibits this sort of random quality resulting in a semi-'natural' Pareidolia. What results are hyper-surreal paintings that upon first glance don't seem to inhabit any intentional figures (like the blue woman in the middle of the Oyster and Martha or the agonizing people at the bottom of Nineteen Are Dying) but rather inhabit these complex figures and images because of the painting’s title and our inner desire to discover what these paintings contain. Bill’s paintings are inspiring because they bring up the questions: "did he mean for that to happen?" and “do other people see what I’m seeing?”. That mystery is part of the beauty. It blurs the lines between intentional genius and ‘happy accidents’, making us wonder whether the genius of creation lies in the intention of the creator’s thoughts, or lies in the act of creation itself. This dissection of art’s creation brings to mind Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, revealing the debates over the boundaries between art and artist have existed for as long as there has been art. Either way, I love all of Bill’s new paintings. I could stand and admire his work for hours upon hours.
-Michael S. Barr
Files coming soon.