Before becoming an artist Aaron Johnson studied biochemistry, and that background is all over his paintings – permeable membranes, roiling fluids, and inside-out figures with organs hanging off their bodies. Johnson builds the paintings up in layers of poured acrylic polymer, starting with foreground details and ending with free-form splashes in the background (watch the video to hear more about the process).
Figures and scenes from US politics appear in distortions so extreme they go beyond the pale of satire. Take, for example, the most grotesque Tea Party rally you’ve ever seen or wars that defile Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty, even Jesus. The crucifixion appears in contexts as varied as Johnson’s subject matter – in the political pieces it is lashed to the barrel of a tank, standing for the yoking of Christianity to agendas of hate and war. But not all Johnson’s work is political, and Jesus returns elsewhere as a universal symbol of human suffering. Though his style recalls the technicolor surrealism of Peter Saul and underground comix, Johnson told us about the influence of Reubens’ extravagance and Goya’s bleak observations of human nature. He describes the images as dichotomies, simultaneously erotic and violent, "a beautiful thing that’s also this corrupt, disgusting, falling-apart thing.”
Aaron Johnson: Freedom from Want is open through Oct. 22 at Stux Gallery in New York. Aaron Johnson’s work is also featured in You Are Free at Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna and 30: A Brooklyn Salon at the BRIC Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn.