Lisa Johnson at Lonsdale Gallery

Lisa Johnson’s journey, The Road So Far, has taken her from West Newfoundland to Lake Superior’s Algoma Hills. The proof of its 18-month passage are her oils on canvas at Lonsdale Gallery. Unlike a photographic account, however, the act of painting may compress the memory of 20 years of impressions into the works. Her expressionistic approach also makes the distance between paint palette and canvas significant – as literal and psychological spaces. Johnson’s ability to weave easily between these inner and outer dimensions grounds her work, making the message of her medium equal to its content.

Installation view of Lisa Johnson, The Road So Far at Lonsdale Gallery

An example of this dimensional tug of war is one of her larger works, Foothold. We might infer from the title that the rocky perch that yielded the sketch had been precarious, if not dangerous. Equally plausible is that the painting, as it developed in the studio, was pushed to the brink of abstraction without losing its “foothold” of the literal landscape. Here, sky, foliage, and rock are roped into a knotted matrix of tans, reds, and oranges, aided by twisted strings of coniferous trees. Still reading as a landscape, an equivalency of forms has been achieved, permitting a free association in the reading of its parts. Foothold is as much a mental landscape as a literal one. As a Rorschach, viewers are free to supply their own associations.

Foothold, 2020, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

The expanding vista of Into the Wild presents a banquet of colour. Its panorama is a jigsaw of inter-locking forms. Here, the distance from palette to canvas seems immediate, spontaneous daubs and patches having little correspondence with what it depicted. Like an enormous layer cake, the painting rises gently at its midpoint. In the freshness of its application, the artist seems to have made the painting perpetually ready to serve for the viewer.

Into the Wild, 2020, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches

With the cool, steel greys and pale brown of The Bay, Johnson captures a gusty moment on a rocky outcrop. Its a vibrant transcription of the pleasures of the Canadian wilds. The work is a validation of the painterly ground that the Group of Seven so successfully mined – the French Impressionists before them. From generation to generation, the landscape continues as a trusted lodestone for artists. The genre has been generous enough to provide a seat at its canvas-stretched table for all comers.

The Bay, 2020, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches

Steve Rockwell

Images are courtesy of Lonsdale Gallery

*Exhibition information: Lisa Johnson, The Road So Far, July 2 – August 21, 2021, Lonsdale Gallery, 410 Spadina Road, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 11 am – 5 pm or by appointment.

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