Rae Johnson in Toronto, Painting in Canada
Have you ever seen a huge-mongous drawing? Rae Johnson’s paintings, average 48”, appear as pencil drawings writ large. Walk up to one; it introduces itself and shakes your hand as a painting, but it’s a painting that looks like a huge pencil work, or a watercolor.
In an era where artists put their shoes on the table and call it art, it’s best to look at this kind of investor grade work, not for the market value, but for how beautiful the work is. Of the non-verbal languages in our mind, sound creates an acoustic language, dance is a body language; painting has visual language, sometimes our nerves are tickled pink. After decades of experience Rae is in a mature phase where she paints a song with visual notes, conducts an orchestra with brush and paint. The fuzzy snow in one painting feels a bit like synesthesia, to feel what you see. Enter Christopher Cutts Gallery on Morrow street. Hidden treasure.
Benjamin Buchloh tells painters to lose their skill, says artists are de-skilling like crazy, to create the golden age of the simple minded. He’s wrong; it is skill, which comes with experience, that gives us a valuable product. Creative mastery comes from the soul after years of work… when skill becomes second nature and paint flows like milk and honey.
Rae said “I consider this work a step closer to my inner vision without concern for what art is supposed to ‘look like at this moment’. For me this is how I feel the world looks. And yes I feel I belong to the long history of humans making images of their worlds. I feel a little raw and exposed but I have to do what is honest for me. I look around and see people disengaged with reality, comforted by their devices that offer artificial versions of life – what it is, what they should desire, what they should believe, and most of all what they need to buy to fill the void. This new show only asks the viewer to look around and simply feel the life pulsing in everything, themselves. Simple subjects wrapped around the mystery of our very existence, the impossibility that we even exist and can ponder the meaning of the universe at all.”
Science tells us painting will never die because it is to vision what writing is to books. A perception of aesthetics in the stone age led to situations that enabled the continuity of the perceiver’s genes. Art is based in biology, it is not a social construct nor is it anything you can get away with. Artists with their paintings expand consciousness, the same way a mathematician uses numbers to work out a problem. This has been going on since the dawn of time, a cultural heritage Rae Johnson pours out on the canvas, she turns and says to me “I think they were relieved to see paintings that they could relate to for a change”.
Miklos Legrady, Toronto Editor
Rae Johnson; The City, Christopher Cutts Gallery, September 8th- October 13th
3 thoughts on “Rae Johnson in Toronto, Painting in Canada”
Thank you for the uplifting article; it truly was a pleasure to read. I think we have forgotten that art can be beautiful too and not just a pair of shoes on a table, as you wrote. We need more artists like Rae Johnson who can “expand consciousness”, not artists who can “create the golden age of the simple minded”.
Many thanks to your review that made me discover Rae Johnson’s work, which I was unfamiliar with. It has made me imagine the harsh Canadian winters and what living with extreme cold and snow for so many months must be like. It is reflected in Rae’s work, and also in this delightful spring (it says summer, but looks like spring to me) painting that I found of hers in the Christopher Cutts Gallery website. I don’t know if she is considered a great painter by the art “industry”, but I sure like her work, also her drawings. Sometimes I think that likeability of an art work goes a long way, more so than its status in the fine art world.
Hi Jenny, I met Rae in 1984, she was already recognized as a serious CND painter and was a member of Chromazone, a top group of Toronto artists at thje time. Rae also teaches at OCADU. Her star rises and recedes depending on which movement is in vogue, but her work has always meant a lot to those into representation.