Casual - Imagistic
Readi ng Frenzy, 921 SW Oak, through August 29th
In the past few years, Portlander Chris Johanson has been an unstoppable force in the art world, with a number of high-profile solo shows and inclusions in group exhibitions at SITE Santa Fe, Deitch Projects, and the Whitney. And so, at first, it seems a little strange that he would display his work—alongside a few pieces by his wife, artist Jo Jackson—in Reading Frenzy's cramped quarters. But then again, considering how much of his art draws inspiration from underground comics and so-called alternative culture, Portland's quirkiest bookstore is the perfect setting for his deceptively facile drawings and prints. The works on display in Casual – Imagistic are primarily made up of the kind of ephemera that wouldn't find its way into a conventional institution: promo posters, postcard-sized drawings, scraps of paper duct-taped to the wall, T-shirts, and a few gallery-worthy prints, just for good measure.
All the motifs of Johanson's best work are on display here: men and women, in profile view, lined up like mindless proles; seedy street scenes in which menacing silhouettes occupy every window and thugs shoot the fingers off of peace-sign-flashing hippies; and sprawling texts that swarm around the dialogue bubbles that dare to contain them. At first, Johanson's work seems to embody a kind of hippie optimism or New Age spirituality: the visual equivalent of "no worries, man." But just beneath the surface is a sense of profound dread. In seeming contrast to his cityscapes of prostitutes and vagrants, one print shows two people leisurely reclining in a serene pastoral setting, framed by towering trees. But the intimate chatter the two subjects share revolves around a new, more effective anti-depressant, as one confesses, insistently, "I feel really good now."
Elsewhere, Johanson presents a scribbled rendering of a cartoonish grim reaper, paired with decidedly guileless text that reads: "I really hope the reaper is easy-going and will take me through to the after life in a loving manner." For all the feel-good vibes that Johanson's naïve style emits, the undercurrent of introspection and despair that flows through his work elevates it beyond hipster irony or pat social commentary.