Los Angeles

Karl Ragnar Johannesson (1900–1962)

Ernest Raboff Gallery

The man of solitude acknowledges the reality of all things as they come because he accedes to their “otherness” from himself. A miller who spent his entire life in Dhasland, Western Sweden, Karl Rag­nar Johannesson was such a man. He knew and painted the autonomy of a chair or stove just as he understood the cold impenetrable landscape that be­sieged him, giving each the majesty in­hering in apartness. Painting enabled him to metamorphose his life’s vigil with Northern Europe’s dark realities so that other men as well as he could see, in tangible form, the spirit’s silent jour­ney across time and circumstance. The canvases are filled with the mysticism of tenacity, the kind great dancers share with the sand-hogs who built Manhat­tan’s Holland Tunnel.

The truths Karl Ragnar (as he signed his works) possessed demanded colors that were as ancient and primordial as dried blood. He did without the joyful blues and golds of southern lands, em­ploying a palette rich in plum reds, heavy, leaden yellows, and thick, slow greys. In the midst of bleakness and dim light, shape is the distinguishing quality to forms. Depicting the sugar­loaf of a house, or the arching of moun­tains echoed in a pond, or a sky bent double by moon-streaked clouds, Karl Ragnar wrought presences he knew to be mysteriously impersonal, yet com­rades, like Ryder’s sailboats bearing tidings neither of good nor evil but laden nevertheless with meaning.

––Rosalind G. Wholden