Interview Eleanor Johnson
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
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