Giorgio de Chirico, an influential artist of the early 20th century, summed up the job of art like this: "A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also what their shapes materially hide from us."
By loosely painting and drawing abstractly on long lengths of translucent Mylar (cloudy white polyester in sheet form), and layering these sheets so the imagery is partly obscured by subsequent layers, Ron Johnson makes art that translates de Chirico's edict literally. The exhibition of his latest work at Reynolds Gallery, "Inside Out/Outside In," includes conventional painting on canvas, but it's his Mylar paintings that are both poetic and transporting.
Johnson, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts, has discovered a gold mine of visual and metaphorical possibility with his ephemeral medium. Both straightforwardly beautiful and subversively provocative, his imagery on Mylar plays off of a wealth of associations from the natural world to dreams.
The medium of Mylar is suggestive itself and full of contradictions. Its cloudy translucence implies ambiguous depth, yet it is surprisingly thin and flat. It is also quite strong, as Johnson proves by painting on large areas of it, yet it has the delicate visually appearance of organza.
Johnson capitalizes on the qualities of his medium by applying blithe gestures of color and line sparingly on each overlay. As sheets of Mylar are added, the underlying images lose clarity and intensity. Trapping his puddles of paint and his long, tangled graphite lines as if causing a sudden freeze, Johnson mocks how time and/or space affects memory and perception.
With scant evidence of anything concrete, Johnson seems to be representing the spirit of something rather than the thing itself. He fills the main gallery with these large (most extend from floor to ceiling), weightless works, transforming it with a heavenly, diffuse light.
But don't be deceived. These paintings aren't frilly, although there's always the risk that lightness could be confused with fluff. As he writes in his statement for this show, Johnson intends to be "blurring the boundaries" between two points. Indeed, viewers may notice that, while looking on, they may lose sight of the floor and ceiling. S
"Inside Out/Outside In" by Ron Johnson runs through Oct. 21 at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St. Also showing is "Paintings and Pastels" by Wolf Kahn. 355-6553.