The Drawers - Rae Johnson Commentary written by Julie Oakes
Results of the headhunt
These drawings, depicting Rae Johnson's daughter, bring the subject towards us with a tentative introduction and then pull back and fold the image into a misty backdrop. They grant a glimpse of youthful beauty and then retract the offering as if by exposing too much the gift of identification will be misused. The movement (coming forward and then backing off) is caught up in coolness, more like the frosty smoke of dry ice than the shimmer of a heat wave that one might be more inclined to associate with young loveliness. Instead, there is a trace of melancholy in the dark circles around the eyes. The face itself, with a milky white obliteration of gesso, hints at the inevitability of aging - a revelation that hangs around young adults, originating not from them but from the glance of the looker, the glance imbedded in maturity and unavoidably tainting all of the crowning vistas grey. With the technical expertise (Rae Johnson is an accomplished painter) to exercise the criticism of a full spectrum, her determined use of black and white harkens back to an aesthetic that deals in memories, simpler statements of worth and a more easily satisfied record keeping. Is this work so infused with attachment that the overriding slowness in the image is the result of a hesitation to give over her child? Is the artist balking at gifting these images of her daughter to the adult world of fine arts where it may be coolly examined by strangers?
Rae Johnson drips and smears quietly but effectively. She holds the intrusion at arm's length. Just as Gerhard Richter's blur seems the by-product of fast motion, so Rae Johnson's blur seems like the frame has slowed down. The voices, were the heads to speak, would be muffled and lugubrious. There is a dream-like quality in the lack of focus with a semblance of psychic fear, like a visitation from Edward Munch while perusing faded photographs of lost family.
In the digital series, the fleeting capture of private disaster is made even more unbelievable by the wax glazes that Rae Johnson uses to place her hand print on digitally altered television stills. Rae's “sensualization” of the public moment doesn't necessarily reveal what it is that is being witnessed. She seems to mistrust the media's coverage and so delivers an even more dubious detour from reality without giving the route back to the main road.
As layered emotionally and psychologically as it is physically, the work tunes Munch-ian angst into a current channel.
Copyright © 2006, Headbones Gallery, The Drawers