Saturday was the opening reception of the “SPACE 44” exhibition by Brian Johnson at Cal State Fullerton’s West Gallery.
The 43-year-old artist, who is pursuing his master’s degree in drawing and painting at CSUF, spent the last year working on the exhibition, which showcases multimedia pieces reminiscent of his childhood and his existing environment.
“A lot of the pieces in the show are reflective of certain eras of my growing up, so certain pieces I’ve been able to gather, find or ask friends to see if they had it, so I could make the space more effective,” Johnson said.
On one wall lies a 10-foot projection of a simulated, three-dimensional spinning moon. Hung on the opposite wall is a 7.5-by-11 foot piece of AstroTurf with vintage lawn chairs placed on top. “I wanted to change the perspective of how we look at the environment. When we’re in the environment, we’re grounded,” Johnson said. “The grass is under our feet, the moon and the sky is on top, and that’s how we live our daily lives. So in this space, the gravity has shifted it sideways.”
Sitting near a corner of the gallery is a 2.5-foot crystal matrix table, an object Johnson recreated from “Land of the Lost,” the first show he ever watched. In the show, the table acts as a controller of the universe and if its controls are shifted, the universe becomes unstable. “Some of (Johnson’s) early paintings were surrealist landscapes that were otherworldly and instead of drawing or painting these other worlds, he’s now trying to create these other worlds,” said Ryan Reich, Johnson’s longtime coworker.
On another wall lie scattered tree stumps that Johnson made out of wire sculptures and celluclay, a white molten material that hardens when mixed with water. He purposely painted the stumps to look like theater props. “We can touch it, we can look at it, we can smell it. I’m playing with the notion of what’s real, what’s not real, what’s synthetic versus fake,” Johnson said.
A Styrofoam ice chest, a 1980s Polaroid camera and some old binoculars are among some of the objects from Johnson’s past that are included in the exhibition. In preparation for the exhibition, Johnson had committee meetings with Joe Biel, a professor of studio art at CSUF, to discuss how his work could be further developed.
“There’s discussions all the way from super practical things like, ‘That plug in the wall is distracting me. Could you think of a better solution?’ to ‘Maybe you should think about other elements.’ You’re talking about technical stuff, visual stuff and then more content or contextual stuff,” Biel said. “There’s no formula for those meetings other than talking about what needs to be talked about depending on what the problems are.”
In addition to being a student, Johnson also teaches art at Valencia High School and has been there since 2005. Despite already having a stable career and income, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts. “I’ve always wanted to keep creating and I just felt like I needed something else to open up my eyes to different things. I felt a little static,” Johnson said. “I needed something that could reintroduce me to the process of making stuff. I enjoy having critiques and outside input other than just friends and family.”
As a shy and quiet kid, Johnson used art as an outlet. Being the youngest in a family of five children, Johnson’s interest in art started early in life when he used to watch his older brother draw. “Not knowing if I had any talent, I would watch him and be amazed that somebody was able to take a blank piece of paper and actually create something out of it. It’s kind of magical and so I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Johnson said.
“SPACE 44” will be open for viewing in the West Gallery through Oct. 29 from noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment.