California Calm: Chris Johanson on His Bright, Serene Paintings and Art as Therapy

Be warned: talking to Chris Johanson will make you want to move to the West Coast and teach yourself to paint. Over the phone, his mellowness is particularly contagious; as he describes his enthusiasm for “social practice” art and the Quiet Music Festival, a festival he hosts in Portland in which talking during the show is prohibited, you begin to see the world from his point of view.

For the works on display in Within The River of Time Is My Mind, which opens Sunday at MoCA in LA, this point of view is all about gentility: a humble, serene assessment of what art can do.

“I see art making as therapeutic,” Johanson says. “It’s a situation to share my thoughts, and try to make art shows about positivity and serenity, and the complexities of life and death, but in a simple, connect-to-able way.”

This kind of work, which Johanson jokingly calls “selfish expressionism,” is tinted by the optimistic environment and colorful palette you might expect from a Californian artist, a designation with which he readily identifies.

“I think it’s the landscape, the geography, the temperature of the air, the sunlight,” he says. “It’s coursing through the veins of everyone that spends a lot of time here.” Curator Andrew Berardini seems to agree. “[Johanson’s] work is connected to a sense of place that is strange, visionary, and expansive,” he says, calling the artist a “California kind of guy.”

Click through to see a selection of paintings by Johanson from Within The River of Time Is My Mind, courtesy of LA MoCA.

Chris Johanson. Suburban Night Painting #4. 2010. Acrylic on found wood. 15 3/4" x 23" x 2 1/4". Image courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery | Chicago.
Chris Johanson, Suburban Night Painting #4, 2010. Acrylic on found wood.