In Heaven, Everything is Fine
Painting and sculpture by Christian Rex van Minnen and Aaron Johnson
Ross + Kramer Gallery is pleased to present In Heaven, Everything is Fine, a collaborative exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Christian Rex Van Minnen and Aaron Johnson. These artists are two of the most distinctive and bold voices in contemporary painting, and their paintings in various ways complement and contrast each other. As an experimental sculpture duo, their combined handi-work and mind-meld is mysteriously absurd, and humorously disturbing. Appropriately titled after the song In Heaven, Everything is Fine from David Lynch’s 1977 film Eraserhead, this show questions the dichotomies of darkness vs. light, romance vs. horror, and spirit vs. flesh. These artists both present us with haunting, ghostly figures that open an investigative lens into the nature of the human spirit. Christian Rex Van Minnen’s works honor the methods and materials of the great schools and masters of European oil painting. He combines his masterful update on the centuries-old techniques with reference inputs from corners of contemporary culture including new age mysticism, porn, tattoos, internet memes, surf culture, and social media comment feeds. Utilizing grisaille followed by glazes of color, Van Minnen creates a dynamically illusionistic sense of relief in his luminous paintings. Into the flesh of his subjects, he applies tattoos and overlays of imagery, conforming to figures in harmonious and dissonant ways that are in turn disturbing, humorous, and mysterious. Aaron Johnson’s paintings present multitudes of figures who emerge from washes of paint stained into raw canvas. Crucial to these paintings is the flow and spread of color, creating a situation of unpredictability, and resulting in dreamy soft blurs and bleeds. These paintings are romantic scenes, with myriad couples intertwined in moments of intimacy in sundrenched gardens. Dynamic compositions layer green hard-edged circular forms in contrast with the atmospheric flow of the figures, creating a visually satisfying push:pull between abstraction and figuration. In certain canvases the lush green garden seems to be a portal for levitating into a celestial realm, or heaven, where everything is fine. For these two painters, sculpture is an experimental zone ripe with unknowns, where the variable of collaboration allows deeper digs into uncharted psychology and physicality. Johnson’s preferred sculptural material is old socks soaked in paint, while Van Minnen constructs body parts from styrofoam and paper mache on which oil paint layers create an eerily convincing flesh. A long distance process, the artists ship sculpture parts back and forth from Brooklyn to Santa Cruz, provoking each other in a kind of call and response exquisite corpse. Cryptic tattoos, oversized fried chicken drumsticks, ambiguous body parts, and glistening rainbow trout all come together in these mysterious absurdist totems that elude to visionary experience and a spiritual searching through material alchemy. This exhibition is a sequel to Johnson and Van Minnen’s collaborative show Chum Chum Rubby Dubby at AishoNanzuka Gallery in Hong Kong in 2018. Johnson holds an MFA from Hunter College, and his work is found in many collections internationally, including the permanent collections of Colección Solo, Madrid; the Weisman Foundation, LA; and the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Johnson’s work has been reviewed in publications including the New York Times, Juxtapoz, Artforum, Modern Painters, Hyperallergic, and Vice. Van Minnen received his BA from Regis University, Denver, and has exhibited throughout the US and internationally. Public Collections include: Denver Art Museum, Djurhuus Collection, The Christine & Andy Hall Collection, Colección Solo, and the Richard B. Sachs Collection.