Tuesday 18 June 2019

What Lies Beneath: Overview by Stephen Johnston

Overview by Stephen Johnston, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist

Overview by Stephen Johnston
Overview by Stephen Johnston

Niall MacMonagle

Stephen Johnston, talented from the get-go, hit the ground running: "I was very blessed. God's been good to me and I've been able to work full-time as an artist, since graduating in 2010."

His degree show was a sell-out.

Born in Lisburn, Johnston grew up near the beach in Clough, Co Down, moved back to Lisburn five years ago and set up house and studio.

The seaside figured in his early work as did portraits. His Box man wears an upturned, grey plastic bucket, white shirt, mauve trousers, black braces and holds a cardboard box. In Stephen Johnston still lifes you'll find an AK 47 like you've never seen it before or crushed, messy eggs, squashed plums, limes, spaghetti Bolognese slowly packed into pristine, glinting jars. Wackily surreal - he prefers subtly surreal - Johnston believes "all still life is concerned with death".

Though only 30 this year, Johnston has already been acclaimed and says "I absolutely love what I do". Winner of the KPMG Young Artist Award, he's been shortlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize, for the Hennessy, twice, and has shown in London, Brisbane, Paris and York.

This work, Overview, is currently on show at The Royal Ulster Academy Annual Show, Belfast Museum. More than a month in the making it's a pincer-sharp oil on canvas.

For Johnston, "the canvas weave is right and has the right amount of bounce".

And where does this quirkiness come from? "It's the job of the artist to observe the world around you. I don't know how other people view the world so it's difficult to say if I view the world differently."

Ideas come to him while watching TV, reading a magazine, during a conversation, while out and about.

"That old camera sat on a shelf for donkeys but one day, passing the fishmongers in Tescos, I saw the crab and a gut feeling told me that that crab and camera would work. The retro camera lens and crab both view the world.

"I don't like shiny new things, if it's beat up and scuffed all the better. And a crab filters the bottom of the ocean, feeds on anything it can find. It's like how we can have all this info about people but you don't really know them. It's quite sad."


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