Erick Johnson, Blue Transformer, 2023, oil on canvas, 24 × 30 in.

Erick Johnson, Cross/Currents

At Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, 179 Tenth Avenue, New York
Through December 22, 2023

212.366.5368  –  –

by Benjamin Genocchio 

Erick Johnson, Double Infinity, 2023, oil on canvas 48 × 36 in.

Kathryn Markel Fine Arts is expanding. In addition to their flagship gallery now on West 20th Street in Chelsea, in New York, and their second gallery in Bridgehampton, Markel is opening a third, new gallery on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. It is around the corner from the current gallery but is a street-front space in a much more prominent location.

The first show in the new space features paintings by Erick Johnson, a New York City native. Titled Cross/Currents, and running through December 22, it is Johnson’s second solo show at the gallery and radiates the same comforting yet thoughtful charm for which the artist is well known. He paints pleasing geometric abstractions. 

Johnson is distinguished among his peers by his ability to make the shapes he paints vibrate. Movement is infused into otherwise static geometric fields by alternating the aspect and the color of numerous, interlocking triangular polygons made up of graduating lines of varied color and thickness.

These paintings drift between art and decorative design, which is a good thing, for it is the tension between these two poles that creates energy and interest. To put it another way, the artist creates a sense that the lines and shapes are moving in ways we intuit but cannot actually see. These paintings trick the eyes.

Erick Johnson, Five Up, 2023, oil on canvas, 30 × 40 in.

Erick Johnson, Stretch Left, 2023, oil on canvas, 36 × 48 in.

Erick Johnson, Peace in Six, 2023, oil on paper, 29½ × 22 in.

I love these paintings. There is so much liveliness here, vitality, vigor, vivacity, and a sense of freshness that I cannot quite explain. It has something to do with the innate visual pleasures of ordered geometric forms in art, even if, in a paradox, those forms are an imperfect grid of irregular and multicolored polygons.

The luminous color is also part of the immediate attraction and most likely at the heart of the sense of freshness that they exude. “I paint each polygon with successive overlapping bands of color, which are dragged and scraped using various tools,” Johnson explains in the exhibition press release; hence the variations within each polygon.

This handmade quality not only gives texture to the images, visible up close but also takes them out of straight decorative design and gives them a more nuanced creativity; this isn’t wallpaper. The artist uses a variety of washes and overlaps along with scraping to get the final desired surface effects. Each piece takes weeks.   

Johnson has found a way with these works to marry graphic intensity with conceptual rigor, not to mention excellent craftsmanship — this is a potent mix for any artist today. Add in the vitality and freshness of the overall compositions, and you have a series of expressive works that can make a space truly come alive.   

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