Color Continuum: Selected Works 1988-2021
May 15- July 26, 2021
Pamela Walsh Gallery presents Color Continuum: Selected Works 1988-2021, a survey exhibition of paintings by Bay Area artist Mitchell Johnson. Color Continuum reveals Mitchell’s journey as an artist who has dedicated his practice to the exploration of color. This collection features paintings that span over 30 years of his career, from early abstracts and landscapes to recent large-scale cityscapes. The works show how color enables Johnson to move seamlessly between abstraction and representation, sometimes in a single work. This unique visual language makes him one of the most exciting contemporary artists working in the United States today. The exhibition will be on view from May 15 – June 26.
Mitchell Johnson’s formative years as a painter were shaped at Parsons where he received his MFA in 1990. At the time, Parsons was still brimming with many of Hans Hofmann’s former students: Paul Resika, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Leland Bell, Neil Blaine and Robert DeNiro, Sr. New York was fertile ground for a young painter and Mitchell learned from all of these artists. Between Parsons, the NY museums, and working small jobs for Frank Stella and Sol LeWitt, Mitchell began to develop his artistic practice and find his voice as a painter. His early work ranges from purely abstract compositions and figures to representational landscapes steeped in European traditions.
In the fall of 1990, Mitchell’s life took a dramatic change of course when he was offered a job as studio assistant to Sam Francis in Palo Alto, California. He left New York for the West Coast and discovered the seductive light of California. The change of scenery was immediately evident in his work. In the 90s, Mitchell became known for expressionistic, painterly landscapes of California and bucolic scenes of Europe. His work was exhibited in major galleries in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In the early 2000s, Mitchell’s work went through another distinct change as his compositions became more distilled and abstracted. He continually emphasizes the watershed moment when he visited a 2005 Josef Albers exhibition at the Giorgio Morandi museum in Bologna, which crystallized concepts he was already experimenting with in his own work. Brenda Danilowitz, the chief curator at the Albers Foundation summarized it best: “[Mitchell] recognized that something remarkable occurred when these two unlikely comrades in art faced one another. The upshot resonates in Johnson’s work of the past two decades: precisely and meticulously arranged color and form play off each other in startling and lambent ways.” As an artist who was already excited by the possibilities inherent in color and form, he found lasting inspiration in the juxtaposition of these artists who were masters at both.
He began to intermingle large, geometric shapes and flat areas of color into his cityscapes of New York and San Francisco, and later his beach landscapes in Cape Cod (Truro, MA). Using familiar views as scaffolding, he examined the interplay between the context of color: variety and how one hue relates to another and the context of form: scale and arrangement of shapes. These contextual issues create the emotional excitement in his works; the degree of abstraction or representation is subservient to the successful resolution of the contextual challenges of color and form.
Today, he works in a large, light-filled studio that allows him to deepen his exploration of colors in natural light and work on large-scale canvases. He is painting with the confidence of an artist who has spent years learning how to see; the art of sustained observation. His newest paintings are bright, bold, representational images of Cape Cod, New York, California, Europe and colorful, geometric abstractions. Mitchell’s work dances between and within these two approaches with ease. It all becomes one language, one artistic statement; a dialogue about the continuum of color.
Mitchell Johnson (b. 1964) divides his time between his studio in the Bay Area and his painting trips to New England, Europe and Asia. Throughout the 1990s, Johnson exhibited at major galleries in San Francisco (Hackett-Freedman, Campbell Thiebaud), New York (Tatistcheff Gallery), Santa Fe (Mitchell Brown Fine Art), Richmond (Reynolds Gallery), St. Helena (I. Wolk Gallery) and Los Angeles (Terrence Rogers Fine Art). Johnson has been a visiting artist at The American Academy in Rome, Borgo Finocchieto, and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. His work can be found in over 700 private collections and the permanent collections of 29 museums including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Moderna, Rome; Crocker Art Museum; Oakland Museum of Art Foundation; New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe and Museo Morandi, Bologna, Italy. Most recently, Two Chairs (Wellfleet), 2019 was acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA.
540 Ramona Street | Palo Alto, CA
Painting caption: Mitchell Johnson, Pine & Grant, 2019-2021, 78 x 120 inches, oil/canvas
Pamela Walsh Gallery was founded in 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. The gallery represents a talented roster of contemporary artists who explore their creative expressions across a variety of mediums. PWG also represents the Nathan Oliveira Estate; Oliveira was a prominent member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and taught at Stanford University for 32 years. The gallery is located in the heart of downtown Palo Alto in a historic building designed by Stanford architect Birge Clark in 1929.
oil on linen
20 in x 24 in / 50.8 cm x 60.96 cm