The painter Kathryn Johnson is a relative newcomer to the art world. Graduating last year from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, her inclusion in the prestigious FBA Futures 2020 exhibition at the Mall Galleries, proves she is already an artist to watch. Her paintings are distinctive with a vivid but restricted palette that she uses to describe the sensations of being in nature - the lusciousness of foliage after the rain, the intoxicating colour of water in morning light. The surface of each canvas is gossamer, subjects shift and seem out of focus, sometimes beautifully out of reach.
Johnson has created five large-scale paintings for Glyndebourne, each made in response to a residency she attended in Panama last year. In this blog piece, Johnson talks more about the residency and its influence on her current painting practice.
‘The warm tropical wind wrapped around the side of the building hitting my face with little relief. I sat, as I often did during those weeks, slightly speechless at where I was and yet found it hard to imagine leaving; passing that southern headland, taking a small airplane back to Panama City and leaving the village altogether’.
La Wayaka Current is a nomadic arts programme that 'works to develop new perspectives through creative practice and critical thought at a time of ecological and climatic crisis'. In September 2019, I was granted a three-week TROPIC 8N residency to live and work in the village of Armila, located on the South-Eastern coast of Panama. As a recent graduate, I wanted to take on the challenge of spending an extended period in a terrain I wasn't familiar with, deepening my connection to nature and our responsibilities to it. It also gave me the opportunity to live alongside the Guna People, accessing an indigenous culture's way of living and learning more about their way of living in harmony with nature.
During the residency, I spent my days trying to stay present; recording a world that was rich, overwhelming and completely foreign to me. The endless shades of green around me that seems to hold countless secrets; the children playing in a downpour that flooded the dining area; the soothing sway of the hammock where I spent time trying to keep cool. There were only three other artists in residence with me - a sculptor, an architect and a photographer, along with a musician and installation artist as our group leaders. It was enthralling to see how their reactions to this place differed from my own; how we all react to nature's presence uniquely.
It takes me some time for my mind to digest my travels into paintings. Although I came home feeling enlightened to a new way of living, for many months I struggled to find a way I could express what I saw there. I will never be able to do the Guna People justice in telling their culture or stories, nor do I want to.
As lockdown arrived in Scotland, I found myself in an isolated natural haven not unlike the seclusion I had found in Armila. The five paintings on display with Glyndebourne this summer are the first works to be completed from my time in Panama and the quiet natural isolation I had to paint in was the perfect reminder that we can live slowly and contently; that nature soothes and restores us.
I am grateful to these paintings; for their company during isolation and for the excuse it gives me to lose myself in the memories of Panama. I hope to return one day, to feel the jungle close once more. I even hope for the simple pleasure of any natural space - I long for the cold lochs of the Highlands and the endless beaches of Scotland's west coast. But whilst the world is uncertain and we are living much smaller lives than we could have imagined, I hope these paintings allow you to dive back into your memories of travelling, of nature - it will revive you.’
Nerissa Taysom - Curator