Greg Johns, Underground Connections
Greg Johns, Underground Connections The title Underground Connections is in the drop zone. The more work Greg Johns produces, the more it resembles some kind of rhizomatic system at work in which one series of work feeds off others. A characteristic of the rhizome is a ceaselessly established set of connections between circumstances. If it seems odd to be talking of circumstances in relation to art making, consider that for many artists the work is a kind of space in which possibilities are explored or present themselves. In the making there are often ‘circumstances’ in which the maker finds him or herself. Sometimes torn between choices. Or bewildered or lost. Distrustful or uncertain of intent. Johns’ whole practice has operated on this basis, and increasingly so. Embedded within this exhibition are motifs and ideas, which the artist has been in dialogue with throughout his 40-year working life. The ‘Y’ or Tri unit is at the heart of his visual grammar like a DNA default. Its capacity to twist and turn in combination with others can be tracked throughout many key works such as the Returning Form motif which runs through this exhibition. But this same organising unit has also been employed to explore the possibilities of unlimited fractal growth. Herein lies the absorbing contradiction principle that defines the visual and conceptual life of his sculptures. There is a very early work, deliberately dropped into this exhibition of recent work – along with others. The Dance Continues was conceived in the early 1980s. The action of linked Y units gyrating in a circle has the sensual surrender of Matisse’s well-known painting, Dance (1909), in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. The essential structure is linked for Johns to his Fugue series and manifests in his perception the idea of continuous variation within a closed system. But the same unit is at work in a very recent exploration which has involved the artist using computer printing to accelerate production and work on a scale not feasible in welded or laser-cut steel. One such work has a series of linked ‘Dance Continues’ – like units joined together to offer the viewer multiple choices from simple outlines to complex threedimensional mazes. Linked to this is another group of computer printed units based on his original Broken Line series and Johns’ interest in I Ching as a system composed of 64 possible hexagrams. The relative speed and economy of this new technology has allowed the artist to realise a dream of creating all 64 variants. An exhibition of Johns’ art would not be complete without the land-based figuration closely associated with the Palmer project. A large work, Transfigure, shows what happens when the artist takes a rehearsed motif (Horizon Figure) and extrapolates one aspect, in this case the ‘head’, which instead of sending tendrils or outstretched arms to the ground, tucks them up like a bird folding its wings. Other similar figures encase broken stone in a gesture first seen in work produced in the mid 1990s. An earlier Corridor series of striated, timber columns amplifies a more recent set of explorations involving the simulation of stones piled one on another or chinks seen through gaps in stone walls. This kind of nuancing might lead the viewer to look for other subtle referencing such as flame-lick profiles and water flow undulations in various works. A constant intent to recognise the physical experience of being in the Australian landscape also explains the heat shimmer elements within the Spectator series of attenuated figures. For viewers fresh to Johns’ work, the juxtaposition of formative and very recent work will provide entry points to central agendas and dispel out-of-date views that his work is hostage to geometric fixations. For those already on board, fixed viewpoints will be challenged by hybridity and new possibilities.