Aaron Johnson next to one of the compositions in his exhibition at La Térmica in Malaga. Marilú Báez
Ethereal encounters
Art and culture opinion

Ethereal encounters

American mainstreamer Aaron Johnson surfs on our cosmic roots

Georgina Oliver


Friday, 19 April 2024, 18:54


'Born in the USA" in the mid-seventies, Aaron Johnson studied biology before switching to the fine arts, acquiring an MFS at Hunter College (the university from which - as Indiana Jones movie fans will recall - the coolest fictional archaeology professor on Earth was about to retire at the outset of the fifth and last of his big screen adventures: Dial of Destiny).

Pre-destined to create a vibrant-hued visual universe infused with spiritual energy and peopled by sprite-like beings, young Aaron grew up surrounded by Indian art, his mother having spent her own childhood in Assam.

The 16 acrylic compositions of various formats showcased by the La Térmica arts hub at the "West End" of Malaga city until 2 june, in collaboration with the Almine Rech gallery, captivate visitors via their cosmic, almost shamanic... psychedelic effects, reminiscent of chromatography experiments featured in chemistry sets for junior scientists.

The 16 acrylic compositions of various formats captivate visitors via their cosmic, almost shamanic... psychedelic effects

Peppered with blurry impish creatures as squidgy as amoeba, they address at once the wicked child within us and the supposedly virtuous good karma-seeking adults we have blossomed into.

Made of stardust

A serial creative spark, Johnson has developed a singular serendipitous modus operandi revolving around the cosmos and us. The title of this exhibition, his first major solo show in Spain, We Are Made of Stardust, is a throwback to "we are made of star-stuff": one of many catchphrases coined by Carl Sagan, the household-name astrologist at the helm of the legendary American TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Further in-jokes include a nod to Stephen Hawking: Black Hole Party (2022) / Acrylic on canvas / 122 x 112 cm.

The fruit of studio happenstance (watered-down acrylic paint spilt on a damp canvas, while working on a previous series...), these hazy stream of (collective) consciousness outpourings contrast sharply with the edgy peeled polymer political statements that used to be his signature.

A video dubbed Ethereal Encounter documents his present colour field and action painting influenced technique: a trial and error, chance-order ritual executed on the floor, astride of a moveable plank, which the artist described as a back-and-forth, topsy-turvy, "reaction-action-reaction" process "without a plan", during the press presentation, hosted by the president of the Diputación, Francisco Salado, and the director of La Térmica, Antonio Javier López.

Spiritual high

It's touch and go, a close call. A blob of paint could morph into anything from an ominous, garish character evoking Belgian painter James Ensor's carnival masks or Mexican Day of the Dead figures to a shooting star or flying saucer. Come what may, a sense of millennium-transcending transgenerational cosmic belonging emanates from this inter-stellar concept.

Housed in a former post-Spanish Civil War orphanage, La Térmica is a unique artistic venue. Heading back to the Centro without a pause for thought was more than I could chew. Hence, my decision to sit on a bench facing a moresque patio, relaxing amid the spring birdsong, Stardust to stardust. The stuff of dreams.

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