Spotlight

Interview Eleanor Johnson

Championed by Tarka Russell
Visual Arts
The Wick - Eleanor Johnson, Beast Mode, 2023
Above  Eleanor Johnson, Beast Mode, 2023
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ONES TO
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The Wick - Eleanor Johnson, in her studio
Above  Eleanor Johnson, in her studio
Interview
Eleanor Johnson & Tarka Russell
08 November 2023
Interview
Eleanor Johnson & Tarka Russell
08 November 2023
Tarka Russell has long spotlighted extraordinary female artists through her work as a curator and art advisor, and through her collaborations with institutions around the world, including The Glucksman museum in Ireland. Today she is championing the work of Eleanor Johnson, whose first solo with Gillian Jason Gallery, The Feast of Fools, opens on 15 November. She discovered Johnson’s wildly irreverent paintings at her graduate show, while she was at City & Guilds of London Art School.
Russell says: “What I find compelling in Eleanor’s work is the vibrant explosiveness of her technique and use of colour, which is second to none.”

Johnson’s densely worked canvases revel in the tension between desire and disgust, the beautiful and the grotesque. For The Feast of Fools she took inspiration from film director Marco Ferrari’s 1973 satire La Grande Bouffe, in which a group of friends gorge themselves to death. She riffs on this story to explore notions of excess, power and overindulgence in today’s society, through luscious scenes in which writhing bodies seem to fight for attention.

Her inspirations are wide-ranging, spanning from Renaissance masterpieces, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the works of Annibale Carracci and Pontormo, to the ‘Carnivalesque’, a literary theory by Mikhail Bakhtin which encouraged the use of humour and chaos to challenge dominant narratives.

Adds Russell: “Her work is a captivating journey through art history. It also has a rich, dreamy playfulness. It makes her one of the most exciting painters working today.”

Johnson takes a systematic approach to her art. She explains: “I start every painting by breaking down and emulating the chromatic palette of a Renaissance work, which becomes my background and then informs the final aesthetic of the canvas.”

Her compositions often draw on the work of Peter Paul Rubens, while her use of linseed oil to dilute her paints is inspired by the processes of Willem de Kooning. It gives her work a visceral quality, adding energy to the fleshy limbs stretched across her canvases.

Johnson’s work is in private collections and institutions around the world, but she sees the Gillian Jason Gallery show as a major milestone. “I have been able to create a large body of work that reflects my years of studies and experimentations, bringing together different parts of my practice.”

You can feast your eyes on her work at the gallery from 15 November 2023 to 13 January 2024.

About the champion

The Wick - Interview Eleanor Johnson

Tarka Russell is a curator, collector, art advisor and champion of women artists throughout history to today. Tarka works internationally and is closely associated with FAMM – Femmes Artists du Musée de Mougins (the first dedicated museum to female artists founded by Christian Levett) opening in June 2024

“What I find compelling in Eleanor’s work is the vibrant explosiveness of her technique and use of colour, which is second to none”

Place of Birth

Oxford, UK

Education

BA History of Art, UCL 2017
MA Fine Art, City and Guilds 2023

Awards, Accolades

Sky Portrait Artist of the Year, 2020
Young Artist Award at the Society of Women Artists Annual exhibition, 2018
Residency at Palazzo Monti, 2019

Current exhibitions

‘The Feast of Fools’, Gillian Jason Gallery, London, 15 November 2023 – 13 January 2024

Spiritual Guides & Mentors

Paula Rego, Leonora Carrington, Rubens, de Kooning, Carl Jung, Angela Carter

Advice

Become comfortable with making “bad” art, and bring play and experimentation into your studio. You don’t have to share this work with the world if you’re embarrassed by it – but this “bad” work we make, alongside the seeming mistakes in our practice, can sometimes open a door, leading towards the greatest growth in our creative evolution.


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