Categories No Categories iCal
Elements of War, an exhibition of new and provocative works by artist Stephen Johnston, will be on show at Gormleys Fine Art, Dublin, from October 10-26 and Gormleys, Belfast from November 1-16.
Known for his work on still life which deals with the subjects of life and death, Johnston’s new series presents a natural evolution in his artistic style. Seeking to make the ordinary extraordinary, Elements of War navigates the grim topic of war and presents it through objects familiar to the viewer, though imagined in a different context.
“War is a heavy subject matter, and I have tried to work in a way that is not disrespectful to war or its consequences,” said Johnston.
A theme in Johnston’s work is propaganda and his ‘CMYK’ image portrays coloured guns in the shades of ink used in print media, as a comment on how information about war is conveyed. “It is about propaganda, some of it is miscommunication,” he said.
He is interested in the idea that everything we consume from the media is presented in a way that encourages a certain conclusion and asks whether we are being misinformed.
Another work ‘Red Herring’ takes this further, with a sea bass atop a red rotary phone. It is symbolic of a nuclear button encased in plastic, and speaks to seeing the element of miscommunication, misdirection and covert speech.
This interest in the friction between opposing ideologies is a central theme in Johnston’s work, and he explores the idea that society is becoming more polarised, and that we are subconsciously exposed to the idea of choosing a side from childhood.
Some of his works depict children’s toys, though morphed into something else entirely.
His work ‘The Messenger’ shows a Postman Pat van turned into a tank, and in another we see a Thomas the Tank Engine figurine with a gun attached. “It is a play on ‘them and us’. Even from a young age, we have different teams and different identities and sides.”
Johnston’s work aims to encourage a conversation about the elements that make up war, such as power, propaganda, resources and indeed the humans behind it – from those involved in creating the ammunition, to those with more of a direct hand. It comes at the topic in an indirect but still hard-hitting direction, which allows the audience to offer their own opinions on what is a very serious matter.
Johnston also comments on the lack of resources available in wartime, and the need to use objects designed for one purpose in another way. His ‘Support Backup’ shows an old bicycle with a shovel and a fire extinguisher attached. It becomes a make-do fire engine – one that cannot possibly perform its job as well as something designed for that purpose.
In Johnston’s work the objects stand out, depicted hyper-realistically against vibrant backgrounds, a drama befitting of such an important and grave topic as war. He draws on the Surrealist movement for inspiration, echoing artists like Dali, Magritte and Ernst.
Skilful and thought-provoking on their own, the 18 pieces in the exhibition form a conversation between each other. They invite the viewer to add their own opinion to the discussion which makes for a fascinating exhibition.
Elements of War, an exhibition of 18 works by Stephen Johnston, will be showing at Gormleys Fine Art, Dublin from October 10-26 and Gormleys Fine Art, Belfast from October 31 to November 20.