Alexander Johnson




The grey that is evident in many of the paintings is a clue to the original source being black-and-white photographs. My original interest in photography probably came from my childhood when I would sit with my Dad and look at the photos he had taken in the war, which were all black-and-white. At the time I begun looking at them with him in the early 70’s, photographs and TV had just turned into colour; and colour photography had become affordable to normal people who mostly chose to take colour photos from this point onwards. After this point, black and white images had an immediate sense of nostalgia and mystery for me as a boy and I think they still do. Using historical photographs does not mean I’m not interested in the present,  but my understanding of history tells me that without an understanding of the past it is impossible to move forward successfully.

The paintings I’m currently working on are taken from original photographs recording the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. I see this event as a metaphor for all human life on Earth in that it is about human beings experiencing disaster and recovering from it. Currently I’m choosing to work from photos of the city burning after the earthquake and being essentially destroyed. However, what interests me about the photos is that only nine years after the earthquake, San Francisco had rebuilt itself and successfully applied to hold the Worlds Fair in 1915. I find it astonishing and humbling in equal measure that people were able to rebuild their city and their lives after such terrible things had happened there. I see it as a metaphor for human life on earth at its best; working together to create new and better things with people rather than profit at the centre of it all.

Although the images I’m making are largely abstract they are not expressionistic. I want to represent my feelings about human life on Earth in a way that is not dogmatic, but encourages reflection. At this current time, when we are grappling with the mess we have made of the environment, it seems pertinent to be looking back at situations where places have been completely destroyed and then rebuilt; this is why I have also made work about the regeneration of Guernica. The more I read about world history the more I realise that almost every situation that happens in the present day, whilst it may seem entirely new to us at the time, almost always has a precedent in recorded history.

Like most of us, I vacillate between despair and hope when I hear about current events worldwide. My paintings are in some respects a visual dairy of this continuum of despair/hope. The colours change from sad to joyous and this is mostly beyond my control. I try not to notice or think too much when I am actually painting. The thinking is done away from the canvas, but I find if I become too conscious of the marks I am making as I make them, the painting ends up looking constipated and finicky. Andy Warhol, in his excellent memoir ‘From A to B and Back Again’ noted; “when I don’t think about a painting it’s perfect, as soon as I start to think about it, it starts to go wrong, and the more I think about it, the more wrong it gets”.

In order to make the work I have to feel I have good knowledge of the subject matter, otherwise it feels fraudulent. I arrive loaded with the information I need to paint, but from that point onwards I try to lose control as much as possible and just let the information flow through me.


Selected Past Exhibitions

2023 Nexus (solo). Arundel Contemporary, West Sussex, UK

2022 Brave City (solo). San Francisco 1906. Arundel Contemporary, West Sussex, UK

2021 Guernica (solo). 35 North Gallery, Brighton, East Sussex, UK

2021 Possessing the Past (solo). Hastings Arts Forum Gallery, St Leonards, East Sussex, UK

2020 Royal Academy summer/winter exhibition, London

2020 Hastings Art Forum Gallery, St Leonards, East Sussex, UK

2019 The Deanland Project(with John Brockliss). Farley Farmhouse Gallery, East Sussex, UK

2018 The Deanland (with John Brockliss). 35 North Gallery, Brighton, East Sussex, UK

2018 The Masters. Royal Society of Printmakers, Mall Gallery, London

2017 Jerwood Drawing Prize. Jerwood Space, London + touring

2016 Reconnaissance (solo). The Atom Gallery, London
2016 Royal West of England Academy, RWA Open
2015 South East Open. Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, East Sussex

2015 Life in Abstract (solo). Project Gallery, Arundel, West Sussex

2013 Artists Making Prints. Mall Gallery, London
2011 Pushing Print. The Margate Gallery, Kent
2009 Mall Gallery, London
2008 Art/CLIC Bankside Gallery, London
1995 Alternative Arts. Marylebone, London
1993 Galerie 111 (solo). Nijmegen, Netheralnds
1992 Valke Gallery (solo). Amersfoort NL (solo)
1985 Stowells Trophy.Royal Academy, London.



2020 & 2021 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition catalogues.

2018 DEANLAND 84 page photo documentary of The Deanland Project (see menu)

2018 RECONNAISSANCE catalogue of the complete Reconnaissance silkscreens.

2017 JERWOOD DRAWING PRIZE exhibition catalogue. ISBN: 978-1-908331-29-8

2015 LIFE IN ABSTRACT Project Gallery catalogue. ISBN: 978-1-78280-620-2


2015 ART IN BRIGHTON ISBN 978-0-9928543-1-7

2014 ART IN BRIGHTON ISBN: 978-0-9928543-0-0