Utah painter Brett Allen Johnson was going to give himself a year to do some painting and figure out a marketing
plan before he truly embarked on his career as a professional painter. But—as the famous saying goes, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans”—the universe had its own plans for Johnson when he was offered a solo show at Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Los Angeles. “I hadn’t planned on that,” the artist says. “It was unexpected.”
He couldn’t have imagined a better gallery asking him. He’d worshiped the work of Logan Maxwell Hagege and Glenn Dean, who both show at the gallery, and now he would be showing work alongside theirs. “Logan and Glenn, the Taos artists, Maynard Dixon...these are the artists that have inspired my work. Dixon especially. There’s no way to remove the indelible mark that he has put on us. We can’t see a cloud or a mesa without seeing something he painted,” Johnson says. “But at the same time, I’m excited to take my influences and pull from them my own views of the Southwest. I’m loving these wide-open spaces, places where I can look for balance with the big external world and the little internal one.”
Johnson is refreshingly optimistic and, at 33 years old, he’s young and excited at what lies before him. When asked about what he wants to say as an artist, he has an answer that is honest and sincere. “As an artist I know the way I want things to look, but I’m not always sure why yet, but that’s OK because that will come with time,” he says.
One thing he is sure about is that he loves painting the landscapes of the Southwest, which he experiments with through color and brushstroke. “If you’re looking at six pieces
then you’re seeing six entirely different approaches to paint handling,” he says. “I enjoy experimenting and seeing where each painting leads me.”
In Sandstone Nocturne, Johnson paints a stylized mountain range lit brightly by the moon. The piece didn’t start as a nocturne, but it did always have abstracted elements in it. “It had a lot of texture, which I liked, but then I also wanted to show the shadow side and the lit side of the mountain, kind of a Caravaggio chiaroscuro thing with the blacked-out shadows that don’t reflect or cast any light,” the artist says, adding that he enjoyed playing with color and tone to fine-tune the painting to what he wanted. “As far as the paint goes, I’ll ask myself what’s the goal. From there I will add more color, or more abstraction, or even less abstraction so the piece can be more realistic and more tangible.”
Other works include the Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired Distant Thunder, which features a mule deer skull that hovers over the landscape, and Gateway and Threshold, which are loosely linked by the artist’s interest in the duality of the Southwest. In Threshold a cattle chute opens up into the open desert; in Gateway a courtyard gate is closed on the magnificent vista behind it. “They’re mysteries because they force you to see, or not see, from a distance,” he says. “It brings me back to the internal and external struggle of the Southwest.”
Johnson’s first solo show, Arid Forms, opens April 1 in Los Angeles.