Long Walk, Devin B. Johnson’s second solo exhibition with Nicodim, is a meditation on entropy and the re-assertion of soul and identity in a city following tragedy.
Johnson left New York for his residency at Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal just before the onset of the pandemic, when what was supposed to be a six-week residence became five months due to disease and upheaval back home. In the States, once lively neighborhoods he frequented were boarded up and out of business. His long walks and commutes through the city served as a way to take a close inventory of the evolution of surfaces and textures, how they had changed while he was away.
“When I returned from Senegal, I was still reeling from the heat and sun of Dakar. I’d come to learn in the months to come that home was different. Especially being in New York, the city was hit hard by COVID. New York, like my new paintings, is in the midst of both a becoming and an undoing.”
Johnson’s abstract canvases start with a well-defined rendering of a figurative situation sourced from found photographs, record covers, and other objects that once held intense personal meaning for someone, somewhere, only to be lost or discarded. Backbone complete, he adds layers of various textural elements and paint, sometimes changing the orientation of the piece. He sees his process as an allegory for the entropy and regeneration of memory, experience, and community identity.
“There was Three,” 2021, for example, began with a photo from a thrifted album depicting three sons with their grandmother. “It could’ve been plucked from my own family photo album. It made me think about inherited identity, and the way memories don’t necessarily belong to the actors within them. The found figures set the intention—I painted them faithfully and realistically to start—and they lead me to a more abstract, emotional realm.”
“The Meeting,” 2021, is another universally relatable situation, one that could be just as at home in New York as Dakar. “The figures are from another found image, one that could be straight out of my own, personal history. The bodies belong to others, but the experience is anonymous, it could be mine. The past is a living thing—collaborative, improvised. The marks are intuitive, but the lives they’re built upon are real, and shared in a collective consciousness.”
In its essence, his work responds to that way time takes its own hold on the landscape around us. The paintings are a response to a visual language Johnson sees in the natural world.
Devin B. Johnson (b. 1992, Los Angeles) obtained his BA in Fine Arts from the California State University of Channel Islands (2015) and received a Masters of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute (2019). He was one of sixteen artists from around the world selected for the inaugural year of the Black Rock Senegal residency, and was featured in the Northeast and MFA issue of New American Paintings (2019), and included in Cultured’s “Young Artists 2021.” Recent exhibitions include Melody of a Memory, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles (2020, solo); When You Waked Up the Buffalo, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles (2020); Hollywood Babylon: A Re-Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Jeffrey Deitch, Nicodim Gallery, AUTRE Magazine, Los Angeles (2020); Atmosphere of Certain Uncertainty, Residency Gallery, Inglewood (2019, solo); and Incognito, ICA LA, Los Angeles (2019). Noteworthy collections include LACMA, Rubell Museum, Pond Society, and CC Foundation. Johnson lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.