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Winnipeg Free Press, January 05, 2009

Fascinating, meticulous works influenced by Soviet cinema

By Stacey Abramson

Looking at the work of Galen Johnson in the exhibit Aerograd at Semai Gallery, it's hard to believe that this is his first solo exhibition. Johnson, who has only shown his work sporadically in various group shows around the city, is an artist whose attention to detail is both admirable and astonishing. He has been active in the local community as a graphic designer, illustrator and art director for Canadian Dimension magazine.

Johnson has created a world of drawings that takes cues from combining hybrid structural elements influenced by a history of architectural design and a nod to film history. The title of the show comes from the 1935 Soviet film by Alexander Dovzhenko. The film depicts the creation of a new futuristic Russian city and civilization.

While the works are not directly taken from the film, they are clearly influenced by it. It's also understandable how Johnson's background in environmental design connects with this and is inherent in each work in the show.

The busy works are an interesting match for the tiny space of the Semai Gallery. Viewers may feel slightly claustrophobic as they experience Johnson's neurotically detailed works while enclosed by the small hallway walls of the space. It feels as though the multiple and varied components of each of the drawings are taking over the space, creating a dynamic between the visual and physical experience of the works and gallery.

Each numbered drawing is a conglomeration of architectural elements mixed with aspects of some sort of futuristic existence. No. 7 clashes metropolitan cement structures that are toppled over crumbling wooden nautical bodies, which organically move into quiet explosions of metal. In No. 1, bright beaming towers topped off by a golden boy jut up into the white sky, where their precarious platforms hold bits of industry and scrap. Johnson moulds histories and movements within architecture to create fantastical and frightening buildings that exist only for the sake of the beauty and desperation of their fragile nature.

These structures invite the viewer to ponder each miniature aspect of the drawing -- one could easily get lost for a substantial amount of time in just one of the works. Intense imaginative detail fills the drawings. It's hard to believe that the structural elements in each work were not done using a computer program -- this speaks to Johnson's talents as an artist with an incredible amount of dedication and patience. From the subtleties in the shading and colouring to the unbelievably small details, it becomes clear Johnson's talent extends beyond the exceptional concepts of the works.

These architectural works do not necessarily give a promising or happy outlook for the worlds in which they exist. The buildings crumble and dissipate into nothingness while they float in the empty space of the page. But it is this nothingness that gives each work its quiet yet overwhelming presence. The works, while frightening in their overwhelming, unstable nature, have deep, dreamy roots. Gliding along the blank background of the canvas, the highly constructed, surrealist scenes spark the imagination of the viewers, inviting them to follow and reflect on each twist and turn.

It is a pleasure to finally see Johnson's work being shown in the city. It is an intelligent and meticulous blend of both high artistic and architectural influences. Aerograd's dizzying drawings are unlike anything any artist is doing in Winnipeg, making it a fresh, enthralling artistic experience.

The Original Article by Stacey Abramson in Winnipeg Free Press