Flea Street restaurant in Menlo Park, California is currently hosting an exhibition of paintings by Bay Area artist Mitchell Johnson. Art historian Peter Selz has described Johnson as “an artist who paints realist paintings that are basically abstract paintings and abstract paintings that are figurative.” The show at Flea Street includes recent paintings from Italy, France, Truro, New York, and San Francisco.
Mitchell Johnson moved to Palo Alto, California in 1990 shortly after finishing his MFA at Parsons School of Design in New York City. He spent the 1990s peregrinating between California, New Mexico, and Europe as he created brushy landscapes and figure paintings. In the 2000s, repeated trips to the Danish island of Bornholm and a chance viewing of a Josef Albers/Giorgio Morandi exhibit in Bologna led to a decisive change. Johnson turned towards a more organized picture plane, where larger shapes serve as scaffolding for discussions between color and context. Land and clouds became clusters of rooftops and cottages. Quilts of Tuscan fields became water towers, picnic tables, and lifeguard stands.
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Johnson’s concern for color has been widely noted. As Susan Emerling wrote in her review of his 2004 exhibition at Terrence Rogers Fine Art for ARTnews:
Johnson’s latest oil paintings of European beach scenes are fresh and pleasing. Using large brushy strokes and bright, often improbable colors, Johnson gives dynamic form to everyday life with an Impressionistic sensibility… Overall, the exhibition revealed the sure hand of a devoted colorist able to extract visual tension from the world around him.
In a recent edition of Artscope Magazine, Lee Roscoe declared:
Indeed, color and shape seem to be the point rather than the subjects themselves. The houses and landscapes Johnson paints are, in a way, excuses to express colors. One wonders, is he suggesting our world is just color and form? And yet those colors and forms evoke the essence of place: his European vistas are somehow, well, so European. His vistas of New York, are utterly New York; those of San Francisco as from Russian Hill, could only be San Francisco. So, too, his Cape Cod vistas essentialize the Cape.
Mitchell Johnson’s paintings are on view now through January 2022 at Flea Street, located at 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas in Menlo Park, California.
Johnson’s work is also included in a group exhibition on view now through January 2022 at Questroyal Fine Art, located on the third floor of 903 Park Avenue in New York City.
For more information, visit mitchelljohnson.com.