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I flew out of New York on March 10th with the foreboding sense that something really crazy was about to go down. I was in the city for the spring art fairs and held a series of studio visits with artists throughout my stay. I also met up with friends for dinner and saw a Broadway show. During intermission, I laughed with the woman next to me at the bathroom sink as we stood there, washing our hands for longer than usual. “I think of it as my new ‘me time’” she said. It was all so funny and quaint then. On another afternoon, a Lyft driver went into great detail about how the virus was made in a lab, he was just so sure of it. When I finally did leave, I remember the plane lifting off and thinking “Get me out of here.” It was clear to me that March 10th was a tipping point. We were headed into something truly awful.
There’s a catharsis in recounting our stories of where we were when something catastrophic occurred. A very clear marker of then and now. A nostalgic return to some kind of innocence, a time before we knew better. The New York-based painter, Stacie Maya Johnson’s new work, Foreshadowing Coronavirus, succinctly describes the feelings I had in my recent time in New York. Black irregular squares on top of gray irregular squares, a squiggle in the center emanating a sinister energy. Dark clouds of ink staining the canvas. Seemingly only an abstract painting could encapsulate that vague feeling of impending doom.
And while so much has changed since that trip, something that remains a constant, having followed Stacie’s career for the past 15 years, is her steady commitment to the very act of painting. Stacie is what we would call a “painter’s painter” in that she is dedicated to the very act of pushing paint, the daily practice of putting paint brush to canvas. This is also to say that she is deeply inquisitive of the process of other painters, always looking and gathering information. Once at a museum, standing in front of a painting, she said to me, “It’s good to know it’s a painting when you’re this close to it.” The qualities of what makes up a painting from afar can be blurred, but near, it ought to reveal itself.
The qualities of Stacie’s paintings include obvious shapes and colors that might recall, in her own words, “kids design” as well as kids crafts projects that she works on with her 6-year-old daughter, Willa. The shapes are based on items she finds in her studio and that are readily traceable. “Spills and scribbles are just as useful to the process as are cut pieces of colored construction paper,” she explains. ”Sometimes I use string to lay out a particular curve.” The colors vibrate against one another, pushing and pulling at space. In many works, such as in Sensitive Robot, she will create a composition that is almost symmetrical. It becomes a visual game as the viewer’s eyes bounce around the painting, seeking what is and isn’t in balance.
Almost five months after my time in New York, the last time I saw Stacie, the world certainly feels different. But in that imbalance, what is revealed more plainly than ever before is a whole slew of inequities - health care, racial justice, poverty. As an activist, Stacie didn’t need a pandemic to be reminded of this. We originally showed Stacie’s work in the 2014 group exhibition, Regina Rex: New Threads, which featured the work of the artist-run-space, Regina Rex. The group was named for its location, being on the border of Queens and Kings county. Stacie still resides in this neighborhood and her role as a curator has shifted in recent years to her role as a community advocate, working on committees for the Ridgewood Tenants Union, the Kings County Democratic Committee, and the Community Education Council. Her commitment to the act of painting matched now to her commitment to serving her immediate community. Which reminds us that, sure, we can commiserate about our pre-Covid lives, but we can never go back.
-- Katie Geha, Director, Dodd Galleries
Stacie Maya Johnson was born in Iowa and lives and works in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She received her MFA from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She has held recent exhibitions at Elijah Wheat Showroom, Brooklyn, NY; The Times Club Gallery, Iowa City, IA; Couples Counseling, Ridgewood, Queens; Geoffrey Young Gallery, Great Barrington, MA; and The Pit, Los Angeles, CA.