Uptown Paintings – Michael Louis Johnson | Tony Serio
February 28 @ 11:00 am - March 26 @ 6:00 pmFree
February 28 – March 25, 2023
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 2, 5pm – 8pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, March 11, 3pm
Bowery Gallery is pleased to present the urban cityscapes of Michael Louis Johnson and Tony Serio. Johnson and Serio’s paintings explore upper Manhattan, through incidental views from a window or dense groups of trees in Hudson River Park with their undergrowth which are common themes in their work. The work reveals unexpected relationships as observations of natural and man-made forms as they are translated to the flat surface. The calm sense of place that belies the urgent painting process as Johnson and Serio use their work to reconsider once-familiar shapes and intervals.
Michael Louis Johnson
Where it begins with this show’s work is the idea that we all live in our own bubbles. Group bubbles, family bubbles, neighborhood bubbles. Sometimes, one of those bubbles springs a leak and begins to fizzle or alternately bursts. I had this happen in May of 2021. The leak and the burst. A marriage bubble.
By January 2022 it was fully disassembled, and I no longer lived or worked in the same space I’d been in since 1999. With my wife gone, and the place sold, I shifted over to a second-floor apartment in a quieter part of the same Hudson Heights neighborhood. It’s an older building. An antique garden out my front room window looked up at me those first January days and I started to paint it with its odd incline and the box-like surrounding walls. It was remarkably different from the panoramic views I had been staring at for 20+ years. I was now closer to the ground. The individual shapes were bigger and simpler. The stone and brick wall suggested a free-for-all of mark making and finger painting that sustained me from that very first January day. The works on canvas or linen in this show are front window views of that garden space as the scene changes through the seasons.
The show’s works on paper are my pinball style alternates, self-portraits, plein air trees, and back window views.
Inspired by the old masters and their grasp of trees and masses of foliage, I started to spend time studying complex tree groupings and undergrowth in Hudson River Park in 2020. My intention was to bring greater depth to the backgrounds of my larger more ambitious figurative works. After focusing on the dense foliage on the periphery of the park, I zoomed out to focus on the park’s occupants and their activity.
The volleyball players, as subject, began when I found myself doing quick sketches of the players on my way home from a plein-air painting session. I soon found that I had to recreate their poses from memory, as they were in constant motion. The sketches eventually turned into a large painting in the studio where I introduced the figure’s action into my park scenes. I did several studies of the court and its surroundings for reference as I continued to recreate the scene indoors on the larger painting over two summers.
Aside from Hudson River Park, the Lillie Brown Playground and Fort Tryon Park are city parks that have held my interest for many years. The playground paintings are from the perspective of my studio window, which looks down into the park. I’ve revisited Fort Tryon Park after five years to work on an older studio painting of the park’s iconic archway. That painting is now in its third iteration. And recently, I have turned to the sky in some of my window views, letting the atmosphere dominate with only the strip of land across the river as an anchor at the bottom.