Professor Andrew Ellis Johnson‘s solo exhibition “Founder” opens at SUNY Cortland on March 15. The exhibition presents large scale ink and gouache paintings on paper and marble sculptures.
Johnson’s works re-examine the ideals and aspirations that our country claims—and that have been so selectively enacted or attained. His exhibition title “Founder” refers to both an agent and an action, the establishment and the breakdown—of a vessel, society, or state in the context of historical, and socio-political conditions.
Johnson’s artistic practice adopts a variety of media, tactics, and disciplines to explore pressing social and political inequities. He treats representation — not as rigid pictorial tradition — but as an agency to awaken and combat inertia.
One series in the gallery, “Tall Tales,” reacted to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, plunging into the economic deprivation, structural violence, and endemic racism that has persisted for centuries. Images like Thomas Jefferson’s wig ignited with a Tiki Torch explode the myths, distortions, and unmet promises of American hegemony and history. Drawings of the felled horses of Confederate Generals speak to the ongoing controversies regarding who and what we choose to memorialize and the malignant consequences of a Civil War that remain unresolved. With an expressive realism, Johnson’s visual narratives blend historical and contemporary references in solemn tableaus of bodies. His allegorical operations and autopsies are filled with the viscera of greed, organs of oppression, cavities of omission, tumors of hubris, and sinews of hatred.
Johnson’s artistic lens exposes the past to clarify the present, placing typically revered historical figures in new contexts. He explains, “As a youth, I asked my father (who taught Civil War history for 40 years) why he named me after the only president to be impeached. He said that Lyndon Johnson wasn’t president at the time I was born. My childhood hero was the muckraking cartoonist Thomas Nast who created devastating critiques of the reconstruction policies of my namesake. My allegiance is with images that are critical of our times, that use irony and allegory to advocate for equity with opprobrium.”
Johnson will give an online artist talk on March 17 at 4:30 PM and several other events have been scheduled over the run of the exhibition.