This show at Bruno David was kind of a surprise to me. The Kelley Johnson works that I was familiar with were thickly painted interiors and genre scenes, inspired by Vuillard and probably Diebenkorn and Fairfield Porter as well. In those paintings the tendency to ride up to the surface and flatten out did make a lot more sense. And, some of the compositional elements felt more like givens: put a chair in the foreground, put a picture frame on the wall, and a door at the edge of the composition, etc.
When I look at these paintings I think about the scene in Beetlejuice where Alec Baldwin steps out of the front door and falls into a sci-fi desert inhabited by giant killer worms. I think they do ‘stop short’ but I think that’s just the nature of making such a radical change in one’s work. And I think sometimes watching it as an experiment that’s in-progress is what makes work like this exciting. My critical judgment concerns the context–the change occuring in the whole body of work–more than individual works.
One last thing. I do think that scale is a factor here. Bruno David has a few installation shots up on their website. I think these paintings, this size, with paint like this are experienced environmentally rather than voyeuristically. That is they become a part of a viewer’s space rather than an illusory space the viewer looks into..
Ricky Allman talks about his work this way, and I’m borrowing some terminology from him. Artists like Mr. Allman, and Jackson Pollock and Julie Mehretu, may be more successful because their work succeeds in functioning both ways, it’s true. I really hope that’s where Kelley is working to also.
I can see your point — the paintings in a group, an environment, have a much more satisfying effect.
Rackstraw Downes eventually started doing that on purpose with observed landscapes. Instead of trying to make one continuous (read: really wide) visual experience, as he had been, he just broke it up into 4+ separate paintings, always shown together, with hanging distances stipulated.
It’s something I’ve never sorted out for myself. Sometimes I’ll make two or three or five paintings and feel like they’re of a single piece, but in process have worked them apart or together. It doesn’t always finish out well.
The precedent’s been around for a while, but in the past it served a more literary, narrative function than one about perception (I’m thinking of church/conventpaintings and Bosch at the moment).