Words, images and ‘Ineffable Green Thing’ at the Red Brick
Painter Anders Johnson and poet Kristy Odelius collaborate for Aspen show
Ruins and the declines and ends of civilizations have been on the painter Anders Johnson’s mind in recent years for obvious reasons in our apocalyptic moment.
What: Anders Johnson and Kristy Odelius, ‘Ineffable Green Thing’
Where: Red Brick Center for the Arts
When: Through Oct. 28
More info: redbrickaspen.com
For an exhibition at the Red Brick Center for the Arts, the Gunnison-based artist teamed with poet Kristy Odelius to explore what happens when one society falls and another begins and what recycled artifacts pass between them. Their joint show, “Ineffable Green Thing,” opened last month and runs through Oct. 28.
Johnson studied poetry with Odelius at North Park University in Chicago. The class proved pivotal for him creatively because her workshop approach often involved putting specific limitations on the form of an assignment, what Johnson calls the “obstructions” that have become a key part of his process. For example, he said, he might challenge himself to make a series of paintings that have to use a certain orange.
“I was learning to make art through her poetry class,” he said. “It’s a great way to get unstuck if you have artist’s block or anything like that.”
So when Red Brick director Sarah Roy approached Johnson about doing a show here and mentioned her hope to bring in a writer for an exhibition, he immediately suggested he team with his former teacher and mentor.
As they began the collaboration, Odelius sent Johnson new pieces she had been working on, mostly things written since the pandemic began, and he began pairing them with his paintings.
“I think we’re getting at some similar ideas in different mediums,” he said.
Odelius’s poems often accrue imagery of seemingly mundane things to build meaning — “Tapestries of owls / fold their wings over / diamonds, tepid water, hot jaw / blink blank in a jar.” — much like Johnson has piled things up in his paintings. His “Luxury Ruin,” for example, shows a haphazard collection of junked classical sculptures, plants, pots and mosaics in what seems like a storage room with stained glass portrait windows.
Through his work, there are ruins and remnants of things past — classical sculpture and broken columns, prehistoric fertility totems, echoes of the high times in European and American history alongside more current signifiers like a Peloton and an InfoWars news van.
Johnson was inspired for this body of work by a 2016 trip to Turkey.
“I was struck by how cultures unfolded on top of one another,” he said. “How different objects were reused, like how when Constantinople turned into Istanbul there were these sculptures and heads of Medusa, for instance, that would be repurposed as architectural pedestals and things like that.”
Odelius also wrote a handful of new poems inspired by Johnson’s paintings for the show.
“It was a lot of emails and Zoom meetings and talking about the similarities we were seeing in each other’s work,” he recalled.
The show opened with a reception and reading in August.
Made between 2019 and this year, the works here offer a playful depiction of an imagined not-so-distant world.
Among them is Johnson’s “God Proposed Man Disposed,” which was among the works selected for the 2020 Colorado Juried exhibition at the Red Brick in January 2020. That juried show was Johnson’s first foray into the Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley art scene. The work in particular caught the eye of Roy, who soon began talks about hosting more of Johnson’s work.
Based in Gunnison for the past four years, Johnson has been honing his vision, planting roots in the regional art community, working out of his garage studio and thinking about how it’s all going to end.
“There’s a lot of societal collapse that we look back on and think about in history,” he said, “and how does that relate to what is happening in America right now?”