Kelsey Halliday Johnson at the Green Line Cafe

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Ebullient drawings of heaving landscapes and meditative mark-making by Kelsey Halliday Johnson, now up at the Green Line Cafe, caught my eye on my way in for a cup of joe. I was drawn in by the mix of gorgeous colors and powerful geographical forms.

Kelsey Halliday Johnson, “Faulting like breaking bread,” acrylic on paper, 65×33 inches
Kelsey Halliday Johnson, “Faulting like breaking bread,” acrylic on paper, 65×33 inches

Filled with repetitive dots and dashes and shapes, the drawings,  in water media like gouache and acrylic, have a juicy delight and freedom, an exploratory quality that verges on doodles without losing deliberate structure.

Even the work that edges dangerously close to crystalline-substructure-of-the-universe cliche manages to pull away and pull off a terrestrial starry night or upsurge expressed with an engaging materiality. The imagery mixes aboriginal and Native American patterning with Julie Mehretu forcefields and banners–but where Mehretu is cool and intellectual, painting about the power of society and winds of change, Johnson offers red-hot topography and eternal earth-power. Some of the work has a comic animation and illustrational charm that keeps all that heat from burning up the paper.

Kelsey Halliday Johnson. Earth Intruders, gouache, acryla-gouache and pumice on Arches aquarelle paper, 42x43.5 inches. This work was hung so it curved into the corner of a room.
Kelsey Halliday Johnson. Earth Intruders, gouache, acryla-gouache and pumice on Arches aquarelle paper, 42×43.5 inches. This work was hung so it curved into the corner of a room.

Johnson, who lives and works in Philadelphia–she was born here– is one of a whole generation of young artists looking at the landscape in a frankly shamanistic way, imbuing it with magical powers. They sometimes trip over each other’s stock imagery. But when Johnson is on her game, her imagery is trippy and surprising.

If her name seems familiar, Johnson (Princeton BA 2008) recently contributed to the inaugural show NEXT: Emerging Philadelphia Photographers at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. The show will remain up through Jan. 2, 2010.

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green line cafe, kelsey halliday johnson

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