The Feast of Fools, an inaugural solo exhibition featuring the artistry of Eleanor Johnson, has opened at Gillian Jason Gallery in London. Drawing inspiration from Marco Ferrari’s 1973 film, “La Grande Bouffe,” Johnson utilises this cinematic muse as a departure point to delve into contemporary society’s themes of excess, power, and indulgence.
Nestled within the satirical and potent realm of black comedy, Johnson’s resplendent paintings navigate profound and disquieting subjects through the lens of soft humour. “The Feast of Fools” graces Gillian Jason Gallery until 13 January 2024.
Johnson’s intricate canvases, layered with complexity, incorporate elements of the ‘Carnivalesque,’ a literary theory by Mikhail Bakhtin that consistently informs her artistic practice. While initially evoking a classical aesthetic, Johnson’s beautifully crafted paintings reveal eccentric details upon closer inspection – a floating moon, a bull’s head, or a boxing speedball. These subtle nuances inject an aggressive quality into her works, stemming from the tension between ambiguity and explicitness. Heightened by an intense palette, dynamic composition, and the lavish use of oil paint, Johnson’s creations invite viewers to a slightly uneasy space, encouraging contemplation amidst the polarities of desire and disgust, love and war, conflict and sexuality, the beautiful and the grotesque.
Simultaneously, Johnson, with an unwavering eye on the Old Masters, traces this dichotomy back to the work of Rubens: “I remember looking at paintings such as ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women’ for the first time and thinking: how can something so dark be painted in such a beautiful way and become such a beautiful image?”
Delving into the notion of disparate worlds coexisting on a single pictorial surface, Johnson transforms complex and provocative subjects. Her paintings’ graceful yet arresting aesthetic emerges through a meticulous process – she begins each canvas by deconstructing and emulating the chromatic palette of Renaissance masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and works by Annibale Carracci and Pontormo. Johnson’s focus on the tactile fluidity of oil paint further accentuates this delicate and alluring quality. Diluting her medium with linseed oil to amplify its liquidity and visceral properties, Johnson draws inspiration from Willem de Kooning’s technique, particularly evoking the fleshy limbs that frequently grace her works.
The influence of the Old Masters permeates Johnson’s canvases, evident in their colour palette, dynamism, and sumptuous elegance. Yet, the artist also draws from contemporary sources, such as digital images and magazine clippings, deconstructing and repurposing them to create intriguing parallels between Renaissance compositions and mundane present-day scenes, like a rugby scrum. With an irreverent absurdity and playfulness, Johnson’s vibrant, large-scale paintings teeter on edge between abstraction and figuration, crafting a unique equilibrium of positive and negative spaces where biomorphic forms captivate in the process of becoming.
Eleanor Johnson (b.1994, UK) has a BA in Art History from UCL, London, and an MA in Fine art from City & Guilds of London Art School. In 2019, she participated in a two-month residency at the Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy. Johnson’s work is in private collections and institutions in the UK, US, Europe, West Africa, Asia and South America. Eleanor Johnson currently lives and works in Oxfordshire, UK and is represented by Gillian Jason Gallery.
Top Photo: Eleanor Johnson Pile-On, 2023 oil on canvas 180 x 230 cm Courtesy Gillian Jason Gallery
Eleanor Johnson: The Feast of Fools Dates: 15 November 2023 – 13 January 2024 Location: Gillian Jason Gallery, 19 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 8AZ www.gillianjason.com