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The exhibition consists of 16 works of different formats. Marilú Báez
The cosmic connection of Aaron Johnson at La Térmica
Art and culture

The cosmic connection of Aaron Johnson at La Térmica

Starry backgrounds, fluid figures and even flying saucers compose the journey through space of the American author in his first solo exhibition in Spain

Regina Sotorrío

Malaga

Monday, 26 February 2024, 09:39

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He knows how it begins: with a blank canvas, without primer. But he never knows how it ends. American artist Aaron Johnson takes a moment to explain in detail the process of creating his work because he is the first to be surprised; it was a discovery for him too.

One day, while creating complex paintings with a strong political charge, he poured a layer of watery acrylic onto the canvas, and the result amazed him. Suddenly, luminescent patches appeared, gradually transforming into strange and fluid figures that seemed to float in infinite space. Aaron Johnson had found his own cosmic connection with art, a discovery he showcases until 2 June at La Térmica gallery in Malaga in his first solo exhibition in Spain.

We Are Made of Stardust – with the collaboration of Almine Rech Gallery – is the title of the exhibition that borrows the phrase from Carl Sagan, "we are made of star-stuff". Its stardust is released in a series of acrylics of different formats, 16 pieces with vibrant colours, where boundaries blur and humanoid figures with flaming hearts, flying saucers and multiple eyes appear.

There are obvious references to Eastern philosophy and aesthetics but all from a cosmological perspective that the artist himself realised after creating the works. With no preconceived ideas, "making changes and improvising, being very free and spontaneous" with an "unpredictable" result that even escapes his control.

The course of creation thus becomes a revelation for the artist, with works in the MoMA in New York, the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation in Los Angeles and the Solo Collection in Madrid.

"I don't have a plan, a sketch or much of an idea of how I want the painting to be at the beginning. It's like a process of reaction-action-reaction where I place a mark on the canvas, observe what happens to it and work on the next mark. It's like working with something that is very alive because the paint will spread and change in ways that I really can't predict," he says. He was accompanied at the presentation by the president of the Diputación, Francisco Salado, and the director of La Térmica, Antonio Javier López

Without looking for them, ghostly, atmospheric, ephemeral, almost spiritual beings appeared.

"When I began to see them, I entered a very meditative and almost mystical mindset, thinking of the canvas as a place to conjure or manifest these types of imagined spirits", he explains.

A time lapse video illustrates this journey through the work 'Ethereal Encounter': the UFOs that were initially at the top of the canvas end up at the feet of one of the characters after different phases of painting.

"The orientation changes as I work on it. I don't know what is necessarily the top or the bottom. I really don't know which movements will stay, which will be lost... At a certain point, the painting clicks and I can see in which direction it's going, and then everything flows." In We've Seen the Future, numerous heads crowd the two metres by 1.80 cm canvas, all different, with boundaries that blur between them. It is, he indicates, a representation of collective consciousness, a call to "interconnection between human beings" in the face of prevailing individualism.

Four luminescent figures

Guardians of the Three Earths is one of the oldest in this series, from 2020: four luminescent figures stand out against a dark background. A contrast that also naturally emerged during the process to accentuate the light of those strange characters. It is part of the same idea of interconnection; "We really see the luminosity of these beings in the paintings due to the contrast of the dark background", something that works in the paintings but also in life itself. Creative freedom.

Over time that darkness filled with stars, as in the piece that opens and gives the title to the exhibition, We Are Made of Stardust.

"We see these types of spiritual and amorphous figures floating in a kind of cosmic space, and it seems they could be made of star particles. There is not much distinction between the different beings in the painting. They are very fluid, flowing inside and outside of each other, in a kind of interconnectedness between them and with the stars that surround them," the artist explains.

Aaron Johnson achieves this creative, and, in a way, spiritual freedom, after a certain weariness with satire and political criticism that focused on part of his career, with references to the Bush era, American society, and the rise of Trump. Now his inspiration takes a different path. Beyond the scientific fact, beyond the circumstance that all the particles on Earth come from stars that exploded billions of years ago, Aaron Johnson is drawn to the metaphysical question of all this, an invitation to reflect on our own limitations.

"It highlights how finite our lives are here on Earth and makes everything much more magical," he concludes.

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