'A Deep Haunting'
Tern Gallery, Nassau Bahamas, 2022
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — TERN Gallery is pleased to present A Deep Haunting, a solo exhibition of new paintings by the artist Leasho Johnson. Born and raised in Jamaica, Johnson’s work reconfigures mythic archetypes to evoke embodiments of queerness. Johnson’s debut solo exhibition with TERN, A Deep Haunting will be on view from June 23 to July 30 2022, with an opening reception on Thursday, June 23 at 7pm.
Now based in Chicago, Johnson’s recent work considers the environment of his native country as a way of looking back. Reflecting on the Caribbean as a site of trauma and extraction, the artist sees vestiges of colonialism in the performance of gender — recognizing how ingrained values of domination continue to police social behavior. The show’s title alludes to the opening lines of Martin Munro’s The Haunted Tropics, an anthology of ghost stories that use characterizations and fiction, to account for the colonial experiences of the Caribbean. Johnson began his studio work as a process of catharsis, aiming to explore and expel growing up in a society that renders his sexuality invisible. The resulting compositions are both beautiful and tenaciously positive: paeans to the secret life of queer culture in the tropics, where clandestine mountain parties unlock new patterns and pathways of self-expression to the underlying throb of Dancehall beats.
The works in A Deep Haunting consist of complex overlays of figurative and abstract forms that demand one’s attention to gesture and space. A key aspect of Johnson’s cathartic vision involves the use of folklore as an ancient tool of explanation and affirmation. Anansi, the shape-shifting trickster of West African and diasporic oral traditions, represents to the artist a metaphysical marker of queerness — in all its subversive fluidity. Johnson begins his gorgeous, carefully rendered wall-works with an evocation of the figure in uniformly black charcoal, amorphously alluding to the shape of a face or intertwined limbs. The artist’s ambiguous figurations center and humanize a compellingly abstract exploration of color and space, evoking, almost by surprise, the sensations and glimpses of “unacquainted love between two men, their anxieties, and stolen moments in near-by bushes.”
Incorporating a wide variety of media, many of which reference commodities of colonial trade that have become foundational elements of artmaking today, Johnson’s work materially stands at the intersection of drawing and painting. The artist incorporates charcoal and collage onto paper already primed with distemper. Layering in watercolor and oil paints as well as a host of natural dyes, Johnson’s method is a ritualistic process of application that produces bursting, complex abstractions which he finally pins to canvas – a form of collage that ultimately affirms the work’s painterliness. Johnson is emphatic in his use of charcoal, coffee, indigo and logwood dyes – all common media materials or household goods that owe their prevalence to the extractive forces of Caribbean colonialism and its centuries of subjugation. By subtly incorporating such charged material, Johnson further connects Black queer people of his homeland with the imaginative environments of his work.
Johnson’s finishing touches are often wayward motifs in bright neon acrylic, a medium rich in the artist’s personal history and referential of the warm, undulating tones of a Dancehall party. The bright splashes that hold these imagined spaces together often wrap around and contour the undulating Anansi forms – masking or revealing them in ways which can range from erotic to grotesque. In Johnson’s exceptional treatment of color, and the masterful control through which he deploys it, emotions run through the viewer to ambiguous ends. Premonitions wend their way through Johnson’s explorations of space, in turn drawing the viewer into their atmospheres with the sense of faded memory or exiled nostalgia – hauntings that strike us both gently and deeply.