Art Review: David Johansen, photographs. Grannis Gallery, Burlington. Through August.
Photographer David Johansen takes a new look at two subjects with one overarching theme in “Light Forms and Icescapes,” his current exhibit at Grannis Gallery in Burlington. Germane to both ice and light is the artist’s notion of transience. The show’s subtitle is “Images of Ephemeral Objects and Events,” and the delicacy of Johansen’s pictures is mysterious and intriguing.
Part of the mystery is how these images were captured in the first place — Johansen doesn’t explain. The “icescapes” are highly abstract studies in value, expressed with luminous grays and indistinct fault lines. The “light forms” of the “Probability” series consist of sapphire-blue, diaphanous waves that seem to have been frozen while undulating in a tenebrous void. All of Johansen’s images are labeled as ink-jet prints on archival paper, but his artist’s statement describes them as photographs.
The “Probability” series’ blue-on-black waves look like phenomena generated by an oscilloscope and taken with long-exposure digital photography. That’s not necessarily what Johansen did, but the elements of movement and time are integral to his pictures.
“Probability #1” is a framed ink-jet print with an onyx void to the left side of the image and an ethereal blue mass — the shade of a gas flame — undulating like a silk veil on the right. Subtle horizontal striations in the blue “veil” create fragile contours on the translucent surface.
The composition of “Probability #5” is more dramatic. An indigo tangle of tissues is crumpled to the left side, and a shape arcs across the image. From the left, it skims the top of the composition, then dives like a monochromatic rainbow into the lower right corner.
All of the “Probability” series images measure 24 by 16 inches. Numbers 1 and 5 are horizontally oriented. Vertical compositions include “Probability #9,” which features two billowing, slightly overlapping masses of blue floating like jellyfish on a deep black background.
Johansen’s second series of prints contains his “icescapes.” Most of the works in the series measure 32 by 13 inches, and their rectangular format allows them to allude to landscapes. In contrast to the flitting blues of the “Probability” group, the “Ice” series captures the slow process of frozen water dissolving.
The horizontal compositions of “Ice #7” and “Ice #9” feature folded, silvery grays. In “Ice #7,” creamy contours spread across the image like smooth snowdrifts freshly deposited on a convoluted glacier. “Ice #9” is composed of stronger diagonals, and a deep, dark pit seems to melt into the left corner of the icescape.
While the horizontally composed photographs are panoramic, Johansen’s vertically oriented pieces recall Chinese landscapes. “Ice #6” is a vertical scene suggestive of a mountain face of slate grays, wrapped in encroaching layers of cloud and mist. In “Ice #1,” a fine mesh-screen pattern overlies the contours of Johansen’s gray ice surfaces. Jagged areas suggest crust, in contrast to the smoother-appearing works.
In the 30-by-23-inch “Ice #4,” domes reminiscent of mountains in Yosemite press into the white upper reaches of the composition. “Ice #8,” with the same dimensions, is the most somber piece in the show. It’s darker — the lower corners are nearly black — and a lighter gray mass hangs in the middle of the composition like a storm cloud.
Johansen has devised techniques that enable him to create ambiguous, highly connotative imagery. It would be interesting to see what else his technical approach can generate. His digital prints are not wholly photographs in the traditional sense of the medium; rather, photography is simply a point of departure. The camera may be one of Johansen’s tools, but his computer is even more vital.