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Playing in the water

Laura A. Ball

In 1501, the Arte della Lana, who were responsible for the upkeep and the decoration of the Cathedral in Florence, commissioned Michelangelo to create the Statue of David. The Arte della Lana gave Michelangelo a block of marble and asked him to produce a large sculpture that would intimidate any intruders who came to Florence.What Michelangelo fathered from the marble was a work of art that appealed to the entire human race. Watercolor artist Joel Johnson of Edwards explained that the universal quality of Michaelangelo’s Statue of David defines fine art: something that people of any culture, speaking any language, anywhere in the world can look at and feel transfixed from the present moment.Michaelangelo took the specific, to scare people away from Florence, and turned it into a universal feeling.”You’re no longer looking at a statue of David that slayed Goliath. You’re feeling Michelangelo’s emotion. I’ve seen people kneeling at the statue, crying, just weeping with emotion,” he said.Through his watercolor paintings, which will be on display at a home showing today through Sunday, Johnson attempts to tap into the universal, transcend the observer beyond the subject and provoke a feeling hard to capsulate through words.”The work of art, if it really is doing what it is supposed to do, is creating a moment of asthetic arrest to the viewer,” he said, quoting James Joyce.

Perspective/fine artIn order to create a universal artwork, Johnson recalls Joyce quoting Sir Thomas Aquinas on the three components of art in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Wholeness, the parts that make up the painting; harmony, the rhythm that the parts create; and radiance, that shines through or doesn’t shine through the painting embrace one another to compose the universal.Johnson first focuses on the parts by adding detail to a confined space. “I like to zoom in on a situation. What that does is that is more intimate, then you feel like you’re right there and I’m pushing your nose into it.”His painting of a shaded arched entryway in Positano, Italy, allows the onlooker to peer into a sunlit courtyard evoking a sense of that intimacy.”It takes you in the arch. It creates an illusion of deep space so that’s an artistic device to take you in the picture,” Johnson said. “It’s shallow space, but it’s not because I’m still getting the detail.”You see the painting and yearn to be in that archway, wandering what awaits you beyond that courtyard.Johnson also seeks to convey the wholeness of his paintings through reflections. After a recent trip to Italy, he spent much time focusing on water and learning how it can manipulate a painting’s depth and feel. “A lot of my focus whether it’s landscapes or the canals of Venice is reflection, so the reflection becomes the focus of the painting. That way you have two different textures: liquidy against antiquity, the old textures of the stone and concrete.”

His attention to detail and his unique persepective merge to create the painting’s rhythm, the second component of a work of art, according to Aquinas. Johnson doesn’t just paints what he sees verbatim. If he wants to bring a sense of perspective to the painting, he’ll make a lightpost taller or add a sign to an empty wall.Lastly, the radiance is brought to the painting through his polished method of utilizing watercolors.Radiance in transparencyJohnson uses a transparent technique, adding water to the paint to create variation in color as opposed to lightening the colors with white paint. This method took Johnson years of practice to get down. He says he can get a more luminous glow that way. His daring use of color in his paintings enhance the wholeness and rhythm resulting in brilliant radiance.”In watercolor, white is the paper so it’s a reverse process. You’re comparing all of your lights and darks to that white. It’s easier to control your values that way,” he said.In order to further the painting’s luminousity, Johnson uses a glazing technique, where multiple layers of color over each other. You have to wait for the paint to dry before painting.Johnson said he will apply as many layers as the paper will hold before it breaks down.The artist usually initiates his painting on location, but because of the time involved, he completes the works mostly in the studio. He takes photographs and does preliminary sketches on location to retain the details and light.



The showingJohnson will be showing 28 pieces, many of which are visions of Italy, including scenery from Venice, Chinquiterra, Rome and Positano.Others subjects include missions in the Southwest, such as the St. Francis Church that Georgia O’Keefe painted, as well as mountain scenes like the Maroon Bells. Four of the pieces are red conte chalk drawings.One of the reasons the artist decided to have the showing at his house is because it lets people see what it looks like in a home. Originals, as well as prints, available to purchase.For more informatioin about the home show, call Johnson at 926-1928.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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