Johnson Road Projects presents Los Angeles-based artist Vincent Johnson’s dazzling color photographs shot in Los Angeles and Detroit. The artist has lived in LA for several years and most recently gone to Detroit on three photography trips to capture remarkable and startling images of Detroit in transformation.
Vincent Johnson’s Artist statement from 2005 on Photography:
My artistic practice is currently concerned with the production of an archive of digital photographic images of the remains of Los Angeles’ and Southern California’s vernacular architecture after the inception of the motel in the 1920’s through intriguing phase that delivered the fantasy of neon noir architecture of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Since the majority of this form of architectural history are in forlorn and neglected avenues of Los Angeles and beyond, I do not consider the project to be a form of cultural tourism, but an authentic investigation and concern that gives rise to a cultural document as history. On occasion I will also produce a photograph that documents the relationship between the 1950’s through the 1970’s car culture and California private residences.
I work in Los Angeles, which has an exceptional amount of interesting architectural artifacts from the First World War period onwards. Many portions of the Los Angeles that I depict come into existence when New York was attempting to wrest the thorn crown of painting from Paris and succeeded. In the course of producing my photographic archive, I have employed strategies of production such as those used by the flaneur and the derive, in day and at night, by car and on foot, primarily in a stark and challenging urban territory, the Anti-City that is Los Angeles. Similarly, I have also allowed myself to merely wander through this world as the American artist that I am, and fall into pictures and spaces that call for documentation.
It is my experience that driving a car in Los Angeles and seeing the world through its windows is a complex real-time cinematic event. There is a temporary encounter and an enduring intimacy through memory via the photographed subject – this produces the photograph, as versus a sustained relationship with a single but ever-changing street scene. Through auto travel one is given the privileged observer position of moving through the world as a real-time unedited film, a cinema-state; to take a number of photographs of it afterwards. Often, when I drive I look about and “remember” key images, photographs of urban sites from the mid-century and earlier that I will take pictures of in the future.
Despite the relative youth of Los Angeles cultural architectural properties from the mid-20th century and earlier, they are constantly vanishing from the physical landscape of the state, as the dead architecture and their signs are either demolished or their elegant features are almost erased. Part of my project is documentary in the recognition of this reality. At certain times and places in Southern California, merely by driving about, one can gain a very strong sense of the lifestyles of Los Angeles’ remarkable architectural past, in reinvented forms of openness to new possibilities, without external pressure, to fulfill the promise of the future.
Welcome to the 2015 summer exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist and writer Vincent Johnson at Johnson Road Projects in Los Angeles. Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Painting and Critical Theory from Art Center College of Design. His work has been exhibited in major institutions in the U.S., Germany, Canada and Portugal. His works have been sold in art fairs in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Portland. Johnson’s works have been reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Vincent Johnson most recently presented his research on Belgian Congo copal painting media at Theaster Gates Black Artist Retreat [B.A.R] in Chicago. Johnson also recently interviewed artist William Pope L. at his nine part exhibition at MOCA in Los Angeles for FROG magazine.
This thematic exhibition is curated from the artist’s extensive body of works and is based solely upon the presence of the colors red/or green and/or yellow being found in the works. The exhibition includes both photographs and paintings that engage and capture iconic objects found in the American urban landscape. Each work appears to embody one of the three primary colors named in the exhibition’s title. The exhibition provides exposure to the works of these artists across the span of three months; additional works will be added to the exhibition over the duration of the show.
In addition, the artist has written a text entitled STRANGE LOS ANGELES PICTURES, which is provided here.
STRANGE LOS ANGELES PICTURES
Where am I in this strange world called Los Angeles that produces a new world every day?
Most of the time I’m able to just drop my head into the reality of my life here, where neighbors we’ve known for two decades say hello everyday from their lawns or driveway but never dare invite anyone other than family and friends from local grade and high school into their homes. People on my street in the center of the San Fernando Valley live on tiny independent racial, sexual, class and every other possible identity islands, including their professions, from the film industry to gardening to porn.
But that’s the least of it. The strange sets into motion whenever I leave the house in my Ford Explorer truck to do basic shopping. When I go to the nearby lowest priced big box retailer supermarket that carries the items I want that are a good twenty-five percent higher at their parent market, other than the supermarket cashiers, I never see anyone I have ever seen before, ever. On the face of it this would seem to be impossible, since I shop there probably twice a week and have done so since it opened well over a decade ago.
Seeing people today that I will never see again doesn’t stop with this particular market; this phenomenon extends to the local fast food emporiums, corner stores, gas stations, other local markets and includes the parent market that I spoke of earlier, of which there are about five within a short driving distance from where my life partner and I live. The only faces that seem to be at any of these businesses seems to be the long time cashiers, clerks and business owners. Everyone else seems to make a one time appearance or at least is never there at any place I’m shopping or spending money, even on an incredibly run down fast food family owned taco stand.
There is this incredible sense of community based on economic privilege and the appearance of safety. Beneath this there are facts, which include no less than six murders within a mile of our home. The worst was of three young people who paid the price for a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Two women only a few years out of high school and a man about age thirty had their hands tied behind their backs before they each were shot in the back of the head. Cocaine was poured over their heads. When I arrived home during the evening that this triple homicide had been discovered, the main northbound street nearest to our home was cordoned off with police tape and police helicopters were flying overhead. The murders had occurred near the local fast food store at the next street intersection after our home. That block is lined with no luxury apartments. I initially thought there was a film being shot because our street is constantly used for film shoots, and the public park that is on the opposite side of the main crosstown corridor has been used to shoot several films. This nightmarish triple homicide was in the Los Angeles media news the following day.
Beyond this there was a security guard who was murdered when the auto parts store that is two blocks north of where we live. The Los Angeles police shot and killed a man within three blocks of our home. Most recently a man was murdered in his home a block south and east of where we live.
A few months ago, an experimental airplane crashed just after leaving the private airport used by Hollywood that is on the next major crosstown street that’s about a mile north from our home. According to witnesses, the light plane’s engine cut off and the plane fell from the sky. It crashed and broke into pieces across the street from the local 24 hour fast food convenience store I heard about it happening on the radio and walked over to see the plane, which had crashed within two feet of the lurid yellow metal fence of a second hand cars store. Hundreds of people were gathered as witnesses. The police had cordoned off the intersections in each direction back to the next intersection. The pilot’s body was still in the cockpit of plane, which had separated from the rest of the aircraft. About an hour later a group of police officers walked over to the cockpit and covered it with a large white tarp. I walked back home.
Of the endless sea of persons I happen upon in my local area, only a few encounters have remained prominent in my memory. One was from a minor event at the lowest price big box retailer’s store, back when it had just opened and was open for 24 hours a day. This caused the 24 hour fast food convenience store’s sales to fall off, until the big box store’s late night hours were banished. What I saw at that big box store was a woman in overalls buying gin while berating the guy she was with. When she got into the check-out line I saw what looked like basketball-sized breasts. It never entered my mind that this was not natural or real; or that I was living in the heart of the porn industry, or that several large-scale strip clubs were within a five mile drive. Only years later, when I was working on the West Side of Los Angeles, where I saw a woman dressed as a sexualized version of a Barbie Doll, but with large and obviously fake breasts, did I realize that the first woman was in the San Fernando Valley porn industry.
I have to admit that I too had about six months of working in the porn industry, but as a writer. Actually as a reviewer of straight-male porn. The job paid $10 per video reviewed. I reviewed about one hundred twenty five videos while working for one of the top porn companies in the San Fernando Valley. I would walk to pick up tapes to review, across the length of the public golf course that’s near where we live, to a small industrial park.
Inside was a different world. There were women self-loving themselves at their desks while reviewing porn on their desktops. Petite but gorgeous porn actresses came in to be interviewed; some of which I saw for myself. We would have team meetings. I was doing so well that I was offered the opportunity to write porn scripts for a leading black male porn actor. About the same time I was offered the opportunity to go to Las Vegas to cover their annual adult film awards. Around that time the Columbine murders happened, during a night I was to review a live porn shoot in the San Fernando Valley. I remember sitting in my car saying wait – where am I going? I called my boss and said I was done. He offered me the opportunity to work for another porn company. I said no thanks I would rather use my gifts as a writer for what I dreamed would be possibly higher purposes.
Over the next several years I began to take thousands of photographs in both black and white and color of the older and often decrepit vernacular architecture of Los Angeles, especially of buildings and signs from its neon noir era. Often I would shoot in South Central Los Angeles, which is one of the oldest parts of the city of LA and at the time, between 1997-2005, had a massive still extant but mostly unrestored and unkempt remains of its neon noir heyday. During those nights I would come home and be high from the night’s drive, of having seen so much of the city after midnight, when the drug dealers would come out and ride on bicycles to make their deliveries. I recall sitting under one neon motel for over three hours while waiting for the last bicycle to leave so that I could exit my car and take pictures, some of which were shot near where the motel once stood where legendary rhythm and blues singer Sam Cooke was murdered. On the way back to the Valley I would north drive along Western avenue, and once near Adams boulevard, where Busby Berkeley’s and Fatty Arbuckle’s fabulous homes still stand, and think of Marvin Gaye, who was murdered by his own father in this same area of LA.