Los Angeles

Ben Johnson

David Stuart Galleries

Despite ever present currents of “new figure painting” the sudden appearance of a set of flower-hatted and bejeweled nudes on the gallery scene reveals a continuing vein of sensuous hedonism for which we may be thankful. Having dealt exclusively with the figure since 1950, Johnson shows in these images the witty products of editing (poster-popish) to immediate essentials: a solid contour encloses barely modeled, massive female volumes in a schematic titillation offered as close as is possible to the surface of the picture plane. There are serious aspects of formula to these studio pose souvenirs—the hard, clear, cool light which invariably freezes the space, the imposition of a jazzy dark and hot or luscious pastel background, a feeling of premeditated fill-in to all the areas, and the exactly geared change of hand and brush to suitably describe detail, repetitiously from picture to picture.

Flowered Hat-Red Background and Blue Beads can be counted among the best in fulfilling the formula successfully, in half-length views of a model possessing self-reliant dignity, depicted in a relatively matter-of-fact accuracy of vision.

There is in these off-beat works, especially in the cute or coy variations, a parallel to be found in encountering Cranach’s numerous Venuses distributed endlessly across Europe; the same incredulous amusement at discovering another creature so bizarre, open, direct, and individual, yet so obviously cast from the same mold.

Fidel A. Danieli