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Things of Desire: Issue #15, November 27, 2008


By Katherine Laidlaw

Galen Johnson was a kid who coloured inside the lines, metaphorically speaking, and still does.

The 27-year-old architecture graduate, whose exhibit Aerograd is showing at Semai Gallery in Winnipeg beginning in mid-December, says playing by the rules and constraining himself is a catchy game that keeps him artistic.

“I like to impose these rules upon myself and then see how I can work within them,” he said. “A test I sort of give my art is I have to like it now, but thinking back to when I was five years old, when I saw art for the first time and it really made an impression on me, and I ask would I have liked it then?”

Johnson’s drawings, done with pen and ink, are displays of deconstructed or abstract architecture. They’re drawings of scenes he recalls from his memories or his dreams, he says, not the specific cityscape he sees around him.

“I really feel that these drawings are the kinds of drawings I was trying to do when I was four,” he said. “I’m more drawing them from memories. Some of them are from my earliest memories; they make the strongest impression but are also the hardest to recall.”

He’s drawn as long as he could hold a pencil, Johnson says, but he turned to art seriously after what he calls a traumatizing experience in architecture school.

“They just work you really, really, really hard,” he said. “After I was done, I was just like, enough of that.”

Instead, he pursued graphic design and now works as a graphic designer at an architecture firm, as well as the art director for Canadian Dimension.

His architectural training left him with a rigid framework, he says, which lets him draw abstract memories in a precise, industrial drawing style.

“I tried to capture the sort of fleeting nature of those memories [in Aerograd].”

One drawing, he said, began by just sharpening a pencil, and forcing himself to play his own games. “What I did to get the composition was put some pencil shavings on my scanner and scanned them. Then I blew it up really large and had this organic splash of granite on the page,” he said. “I said, okay this is a building now. I stuck to the shape really rigidly. I have to use these lines, make these into architectural motifs.”

It’s clear urban landscapes permeate his work, and Winnipeg is his longtime artistic influence, along with Dr. Seuss, he said. Growing up around Winnipeg, which he now calls home, has left him with a lingering love/hate relationship toward it.

“I love that it’s so cold that I’m sort of forced to stay inside and learn to love making art,” he said.

The white expanses that surround his smaller drawings are expressions of his perception of Winnipeg, he says.

“If I’m inspired by one city, it’s the one I live in. [Winnipeg] is just sort of plunked down in the middle of nothing.”

The Original Article by Katherine Laidlaw in Things of Desire