Ian Johnson is an artist that’s been calling back the dead for years, but he’s just acknowledging spirits. Focused mainly on the forefathers of American jazz music, his works — both illustrated and painted on wood and canvas — have adorned top gallery spaces as much as they have his limited edition skate decks for Western Edition in San Francisco. Vibrant and colorful, the works are a take of American subculture in its early heyday, and with merit, a few somber low points as well (see Chet Barker’s portrait in particular). Johnson’s subjects might be fallen or forgotten stars, but they sit plain and gorgeous when presented formal on a wall.
The portraits take much from Francis Wolff and his photography, candid moments taken for the artwork of Blue Note Records during the label’s prime. Simple but creatively charged images, they seem to refocus the harmony and distress of a time when normalcy was the enemy. And we suppose it still is. Regardless of what you might be listening to these days, the work beckons a little jazz play. Dizzy, Billie, Miles, Monk or Chet — any will do to remind you that the improvised and creative way paved by these artists is perhaps one of the most important cultural manifestations of the human race. Yeah, that’s what I just said.
New works by Ian Johnson show at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco from May 9.