"Ambiguous Hooded Figure (1 and 2)" Mixed media on handmade paper, 17 x 12
Dallas artist Thor Johnson’s NEW WORK at Pariah opened on April 7th to coincide with the Dallas Art Fair.
The exhibition was announced on Facebook the day before its opening to no press, relying instead on the word-of-mouth of a dedicated following. This unofficial entry to that weekend’s festivities showcases Johnson’s trademark viscerally and darkness, presenting the audience a cohesive #mood: an unsettling narrative of sex, violence, and inevitable death.
Like something out of an episode of sleep paralysis, Gloomy Loomer (2017) is a haunting depiction of shadow and light—blood red—at the foot of the bed, an inescapable wariness of a terrible phantom who isn’t really there but is. Similarly, Ambiguous Hooded Figure (1 and 2) (2017) further exacerbates these anxieties. Are they competing figments of sleep or a singular entity (?), inching closer to the viewer, dull and heavy in color, yet exuding radiance, becoming manic manifestations of the inability to escape.
"Gloomy Loomer" Mixed media on handmade paper, 10 1/2 x 13 1/2
Though not ostensibly sexual, Body Rock (2017) captures the malaise inherent in pursuits driven by the phallus. It is a sculpture of a male bodied figure pinned to a fossil, a desiccated husk of Sisyphean exasperation, pathetic but for an impressive erection. Neither moralizing nor celebratory, this piece simply reveals a reality: we need not be reminded of our habit of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, for when everything becomes bereft of joie de vivre and empty of aphorisms of the substance of being, the member will stand tall, a reminder of our folly, attached as we are to our fossils in perpetuity.
With Bad Times: the view from my apartment (1,2, and 3) (2017), Johnson plays the role of recording angel to an urban battleground where hastily sketched stick figures blow each other away with automatic weapons while everything burns down around them. Here, the viewer is treated to the busiest pieces in the show, frenzied lines and bursts of flame and gunfire set against an almost Siberian background.
"Bad Times: the view from my apartment (1,2, and 3)" Mixed media on handmade paper, 17 x 12
In a possible corollary, beams of light emanate from the bullet wounds of a nervously rendered being in Soul Leaving Dude (2017), an examination of the fear of the unknown that is death and the assumed relief it might bring. The idea is enough to induce panic attacks, but thankfully Johnson outsourced the task of naming this piece (and many others) to his drunken friends, lending levity to something otherwise imbued with stark gravitas.
"Soul Leaving Dude" Mixed media on handmade paper, 17 x 12
Certainly there is a DIY ethic at work in Johnson’s oeuvre—a raw, uncompromising approach to creating and showing—but this isn’t the work of a sheepish neophyte or dilettante suffering from delusions of grandeur. These pieces deserve to be framed and cared for, all the better to enhance their beauty and contain their nightmarish power.
The exhibition runs through to April 29th. Closing reception TBA.
Follow Thor Johnson personally on the Artist Uprising app - Discover more new works and upcoming exhibitions at: @thorjohnson
Photography credit: Frank Darko