Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thomas Johnston paintings a photos at Salon Refu

The Weekly Volcano, May 8, 2010
“Washington Center Covered Over”photo by Thomas Johnston
Susan Christian continues to show the strongest art to be seen in Olympia in her little “Project Space” Salon Refu. Her latest show is Thomas Johnston Palmpeset II, paintings and photography.
This is some powerful stuff — most notably “Envelop,” the painting used on the posters and invitations. It is a large and imposing painting in oil on linen over panels that are shaped as two triangles over a rectangular base, 48 inches high by 72 inches in width. The face of this painting is a modulated surface of running, dripping, layered and scraped rust-colored paint. The two inverted triangles created a negative shape that is a third triangle — the blank white wall between the triangles reads as a positive shape so that the positive-negative push-pull is as strong as a battle of wills. This is minimalist, color field painting at its very best with a delicious touch of gestural abstraction.
The best paintings in the show are the ones that, like “Envelop,” take on a shape other than the traditional rectangle. “1991” is a chevron-shaped painting. “2012” and “2013” are blunt L-shaped paintings. The smaller paintings are not as effective. Most are square, some as small as 5¾inches -square. All of them look like rusted sheets of painted tin or sign boards or the sides of barns where part of the paint has flacked off exposing earlier layers. They are like decorative tiles, all surface texture and no form. It’s painting that begs to be done on a larger scale.
There are also a number of photographs in the show. Many of these are close-ups of urban settings that mimic the colors and textures of his paintings, some of which are every bit as powerful as the paintings. “Chelsea” is a photo of the edge of a building with an indefinable wedge shape in rust brown on a white wall with part of an across-the-street wall and two cars seen in the background, and “Blue Square” is a striking photo of a dark pole with a bright blue square attached to it and greenery in the background. These are strong abstract forms.
The strongest of all the photos is “Washington Center Covered Over,” a picture of part of the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia while it was undergoing renovation. It is unreadable as an object but fascinating as an abstract painting. If there were nothing in this show other than this photograph and “Envelop” it would still be a mind-blowing exhibition.


Salon Refu, Thomas Johnston: Palmpeset II, Thursday-Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment through, through May -25, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia.

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