The Drawing Center

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February 7th, 2011
Butt Johnson The Name of the Rose at CRG Gallery

Alex Adler

Butt Johnson’s first solo show at CRG Gallery, The Name of the Rose, features a series of meticulous ballpoint pen drawings on paper, vellum, and mylar as well as one drypoint etching. The works, according to the press release, fuse “the idioms of old master drawings and engravings with a subject matter both contemporary and allegorical.” The exhibition title is taken from Umberto Eco’s 1983 novel of the same name on semiotics in literature and theology. While the exhibition’s description puts tremendous pressure on the artist to perform, the work lives up to expectations. Butt Johnson (widely known to be a pseudonym) renders his works with flawless precision and by the same turn presents the pictorial manifestation of a wealth of ideas.

Historical and socio-political analogies in the work testify to Johnson’s own anxieties about the present co-existence of stylistic approaches born of various time periods throughout the world. Both aesthetically and psychologically arresting, works fuse together aspects of 20th century design with Gothic architecture. Works like Starchitectsand Untitled (Seven Roses) also call to mind elements of abstraction and algorithmic digital imagery in works by other contemporary artists, such as Thomas Ruff’s zycles series or Bruce Conner’s painstakingly complex drawings from the 1960s.
Johnson appears to eschew direct confrontation with his subjects and instead favors more careful imagery; flowers are drawn to perfection, as if frozen and preserved for all of eternity. Drawings of maps and geometric formulations include Hebrew and Latin, and English-language calligraphy. In execution, these concrete references maintain an element of intangibility; objects float inside of the picture plane so that allegories become placeless, stemming from a graceful void in the form of dense configurations of line and texture. Though not emotionally ebullient, the work in the exhibition is ornate, pristine and thrilling to look at. Johnson’s drawings are complex and detailed and challenge the viewer. It is exciting to see the artist so enthralled and capable with the medium. As a concept, that’s pretty good. 
– Alex Adler, Contributor