Former Cleveland Painter Harris Johnson to Discuss Work on Display at MOCA

In conjunction with its Summer 2015 exhibition, How to Remain Human, MOCA Cleveland continues its free, ongoing presentation series, THE ART + DOGS OF OUR TIME at the Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern.

Each month of the summer, MOCA invites one of the current exhibition’s artists to discuss his or her work, inspiration, subject matter, creative process and more. Last month, Michelangelo Lovelace discussed his socio-political paintings and the role his personal history and community have played in his career.

This month, painter and former Clevelander Harris Johnson discusses his new work in How to Remain Human, as well as his recent MFA studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He earned a BFA in Painting from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2009. He recently relocated to New York City. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to catch him in person.

“I first met Harris Johnson in 2013 at a solo exhibition of his work in Cleveland,” explains MOCA Cleveland Associate Curator Rose Bouthillier, co-curator of How to Remain Human. “The paintings were colorful, punchy, and slapstick; landscapes, still lifes, and tools of the trade. Many came across as jokes, and together they could be read as a stand up comedian’s monologue, a heady blend of confidence and desperation… Over the next couple of years, as Johnson pursued his MFA, his practice expanded, becoming less canvas-centric, more open-ended, and stylistically diverse. They retained the personality of the earlier work, articulating it with greater nuance.”

After the talk, visitors are invited to walk down Euclid Avenue to explore How to Remain Human at MOCA Cleveland until the museum closes at 9 p.m. The exhibition features more than a dozen artists (and one collective). Johnson’s work includes a large wall of painted text and a Black Hole painting created earlier this year.

“It depends how you see the painting,” says Johnson of his new painting, Black Hole. “I guess I see it as a push/pull experience. It sucks you in, pushes you away, simultaneously. I mean, in some ways it’s kind of a picture of depression. It’s a picture of being sad. And me feeling absolutely inside this painting. It’s kind of Pollock-y, a little corny, a little spacey, it’s a lot of things. I felt like the process of the painting, dribbling, dabbing, and all of that stuff was really nice. The paint is in the canvas. On it, in it, and behind it. It’s kind of a weird tactile thing. But it really does depend on how you interpret it. It could be a biblical picture. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It could be about you being at the center of the universe. Or it could be Stairway to Heaven. There's even a little ladder in the picture. Congratulations, you're going to heaven. Or it might be a picture of the apocalypse. Who knows? You're getting sucked into a black hole and here you are, this little stick figure falling into it."

Next month, performance artist Jimmy Kuehnle will discuss his experiments with inflatables in his work. You can see his giant, pink sculptural installation through MOCA’s glass exterior. Now, just imagine him wearing something like that and walking around downtown.

How to Remain Human remains on view at MOCA Cleveland through Sept. 5.

(Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern) 11625, Euclid Ave., 216-231-5400,
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