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Artist's Live-in Rocket: Lightly On The Dark Side

January 02, 1986|CHALON SMITH

In artist Eric Johnson's darkly comic view of the world, the government provides free housing to anyone who wants it. But there's a catch: the skyscraper condos are actually part of an immense nuclear missile aimed at the enemy.

The live-in rocket, one of Johnson's anti-war concepts, is realized in the sculpture "Future Building," which is on display with five of his other pieces at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. The exhibit runs through Jan. 22.

"It doesn't cost you a thing to make 'Future Building' your home, but you've got to take a big chance," the lanky, Laguna Beach artist said with a laugh during a recent interview at the center. "Some people might because we've become so accustomed to the idea of nuclear war. It's such an imminent and familiar danger that we're almost desensitized."

Irony is often Johnson's primary tool. Most themes are more accessible if they come with an appetizer of wit, he said.

"Irony is important in my idea of things in general and my execution of a concept," Johnson said. "I feel we have to communicate the best way possible within our own framework. Mine, much of the time, is humorous."

Viewers may laugh when confronted with "Future Building"--a three-foot-tall piece painted in bold pinks with an inlay of tiny American and Soviet Union flags--but Johnson thinks they will move past the absurd imagery and consider the nuclear threat and its impact on their lives.

Heady stuff, indeed. But not all of Johnson's work is tied to political or sociological thought. The giddiness of love is also a recurring theme of the 36-year-old artist's work.

In "Romeo and Juliet," a multimedia assemblage, Johnson explained that he crowned the piece with a neon heart to depict "the vibrant sappiness" of immature passion. It also features a carved model of the Empire State Building intersecting the Roman Colosseum; both lie atop a Greek column. Johnson freely concedes the sexual symbolism.

"There's humor in eroticism, too," he said.

When asked about his main influences, Johnson did not dwell on contemporaries but instead spoke of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. The use of pure color "begins and ends" with Matisse, and Picasso is the master at infusing a work with drama, he said.

Johnson's most frequent medium is painting, with sculpture the second choice. But he is also a printmaker whose knowledge of the craft has made him something of an inventor. Johnson was awarded a $1,000 grant in early 1985 from UC Irvine's graduate student research department (he's presently in UCI's graduate studio art program) to continue work on a new printmaking process.

Johnson is reluctant to talk about the technique's specifics until it's patented, but he did say that, if perfected, it would reduce the printmaking time on some prints from "the usual two weeks to five or six hours."

Johnson, who has exhibited in Orange County and Los Angeles, is not the only artist featured at the current exhibition at Irvine center. The "New Juice in Orange County" show presents pieces by nine other local artists.

The works of Warren F. Heard, Susan Lee-Warren, Jim Lorigan, Gregory A. J. Miller, Ross Rudel, Victoria Ryan, Carl Francis Smith, Marsha Turner and Pancho Vining range from prints to watercolors to wood and metal sculptures.

The collection is a strong representation of the type and quality of art being done in Orange County, Johnson said.

The Irvine Fine Arts Center at 4601 Walnut Ave., Irvine, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

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