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Fables of Decapitation: I knew I would die long ago by Timothy Johnson


October 2 - 27, 2019

Fables of Decapitation: I knew I would die long ago by Timothy Johnson

Art Reception: Friday, October 11, 6 - 8:30pm

Meet the Artist: Saturday, October 26, 2 - 4pm with Artist Talk at 3pm

It’s not for the weak-of-heart … or head.  

Here’s a fact… no one in D.C. paints portraits like longtime local artist Timothy Johnson.  First time visitors to his shows are frequently confounded by his esoteric, eccentric and at times bizarre portraiture.  His latest series, Fables of Decapitation: I knew I would die long ago, exhibiting at Touchstone Gallery from October 2 through October 27, 2019, drives this home with a show that’s more outlandish, unpredictable and, as it turns out, twisted, than any Johnson has exhibited before.

Imagine a stoic Marie Antoinette, looking less than soignée, about to lay her sloppily-bewigged head on the guillotine while her saucer-eyed subjects surround her gorging themselves on pink frosted slices of (yup, you guessed right) layer cake.   

That’s only the beginning of an exhibit of portraits that turns historical, biblical and mythological characters, symbolically and otherwise, on their heads.  As anyone who is familiar with his work, Johnson uses friends and family as models but not necessarily with kindness or affection.   They are sometimes portrayed dead, dying or about to die. Haunting, and yet fascinating.  

Johnson is a throwback to a golden age but with a distinctly modern twist. As with la reine francaise, these aren’t your grandparents posed preciously over the mantlepiece.  Rather, they tell old stories with contemporary details. Picture a strapping American baseball player swinging at Medusa’s venomous head.  A tow-headed, cherubic David having just slain Goliath, but with a wink to Dennis the Menace; complete with slingshot and cow-lick.

 If blood and guts are your bag, then you won’t be disappointed.  His rendering of the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes shows a headless male laying supine on gory, blood stained sheets while a heroine in a dark hoodie and Mona Lisa smile passes the disembodied head to a servant for deposition into a Gucci shopping bag.

In a disturbing self-portrait, Johnson’s decapitated head, perched on a stake, dons a red clown nose and sticks its tongue out idiotically.  Staring straight ahead, it dares you to mock it.  It’s one of a series of decapitated heads impaled on stakes with the added ingenuity of actual wooden stakes extending from the canvas down the gallery walls creating a grim yet effective three-dimensional flair, and remaking the portrait into something more than just a portrait.

As a technician, Johnson is perhaps at the pinnacle of his artistic skill with Fables; mainly his mastery at recreating flesh and musculature.  It’s painterly yet controlled and true to life.  And as always, the colors are eye-popping.  He is a lover of dazzling color and isn’t scared to use it liberally and often.  He’s also not afraid to go big; painting on larger canvases, making his pieces that much more breathtaking.

Johnson’s series paints tales of grim death and grisly decapitation, but with wry humor and cleverness, all captured in brilliant colors and composition.  Rarely does an artist of his ability reveal an equal knack for storytelling, yet he does just that with his striking new series Fables of Decapitation: I knew I would die long ago at Touchstone Gallery.

A Victorious David Perched on the Head of Goliath