Artist Mitchell Johnson’s paintings on view in Palo Alto

by Linda Hubbard on July 13, 2023

Mitchell Johnson is exhibiting 35 paintings in a 3,000 square feet gallery space (229 Hamilton Avenue, formerly Pace Palo Alto) from Friday, July 14 to Thursday, August 3, 2023. The gallery will be open daily, noon-6:00 pm for three weeks. Mitchell will be in attendance on opening day.

Now a Menlo Park resident, Palo Alto has played a significant roll in Mitchell’s life and career. He moved there from New York City to work for Sam Francis. He has had numerous exhibitions in Palo Alto, but never a show of this scale. This exhibit titled, It Takes Time, will include 15 large paintings that Johnson focused on from 2019-2023.

It is an eclectic show: icebergs, boats, lifeguard stands, views of San Francisco, New England and New York. The common thread is color concerns. Mitchell frequently works on paintings for months if not years, carefully tuning and adjusting color relationships to achieve unique and unexpected commentary on our day-to-day surroundings. A selection of earlier small paintings will be included to contextualize Johnson’s 40 year career.

For background, Donald Kuspit has written an article that accompanies the exhibit.

Mitchell Johnson moved to the Peninsula in 1990 shortly after finishing his MFA at Parsons School of Design in New York City. He spent the 1990s peregrinating between California, New York, 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 of approach. Johnson turned towards a more consciously organized picture plane, where larger shapes serve as scaffolding for commentary on the tension between manmade and naturally occurring color. Land and clouds became clusters of rooftops and cottages carefully observed but also carefully arranged. Quilts of Tuscan fields became water towers, picnic tables, and chairs.

Mitchells receptiveness to the paintings own demands was noted by the writer, Chris Busa, in a 2012 Provincetown Arts article:

“If many of Johnson’s paintings are titled after the places that inspired them, no such places actually exist. Each one is a collage of compressed intimacies spread out over the months it takes to paint them. He has done what Edwin Dickinson called Premier Coup, in which a painting is completed outdoors in one blow. Yet his typical practice is to hold a painting for several months, or more, in the studio, to see if a painting stands the test of repeated looking, often involving the process of memory revision, where a succession of impressions gained over weeks or months is expressed as continuous flow.”

For more information, visit Mitchell’s website.

“Two Chairs (Corn Hill),” 2023 36×58 inches oil/canvas by Mitchell Johnson (c) 2023

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