Johnson to show ‘digital, cultural art’

The Blanden Art Museum is bringing images of Spain and Morocco, and the concept of painting as performance, courtesy of a New York artist with Fort Dodge roots.

Daniel Johnson, who graduated high school in Fort Dodge in 1970, will give a talk Saturday about an exhibit of his work at the Blanden.

On display will be six oil paintings of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain created in 2007; 18 digital images created in 2012 on computer and printed on large-size paper; and three 2007 photomontages of digital photographs. The works emphasize patterning and definitive color contrasts.

The digital images are “abstract, but they’re geometric,” Johnson said, and are directly related to the paintings of the Alhambra, an Islamic fortress complex.

“They’re anchored in Moorish Arabic drawings,” he said. “The Moorish Arabic culture in medieval times from the 15th and 16th centuries.

“Each one took many proofs, many colorations and many layers. They’re very rich and vivid.”

Blanden Director Margaret Skove wanted the Alhambra paintings on display, Johnson said, as well as digital art, which is how he picked his theme.

Johnson made the paintings when he visited Grenada in 2007, and drew inspiration for the digital art from both that and a 2012 trip to Fes, Morocco.

“I had not been to Fes for 40 years. I went when I was 18 for the first time,” he said. “That was my first real contact with non-Western culture. I was fascinated by it, as everyone who goes to Morocco is.”

Connection with other cultures is what Johnson loves about living in New York City. When he was young, his family was often visited by missionary friends who had been to Africa many times.

“In the media today you have the whole world in front of you to inspire you. Then we didn’t have that,” he said.

Johnson also draws inspiration from the “urban machine” all around him in the city. In addition to digital work in a studio, he also likes working on subways, trains and buses.

“You can be creative while somebody else is transporting you someplace,” he said.”We’re all dumbing down because we’re driving in cars too much.”

He said doing art in public spaces sometimes turns into almost a performance, drawing parallels to his experience as a dancer and musician.

His first public performance, he said, was with the Fort Dodge Symphony in 1967.

Johnson is eager to support his hometown art museum with this exhibit.

“I took art classes at the Blanden as a kid, in the summer. My mother was a member of the art guild, and they had summer lawn parties in front of the Blanden,” he said. “I came around to realizing this was a very important cultural and educative place in my life.”

Skove also is interested in seeing the visual art of people who grew up in the area.

“The digital images, created on a computer yet now seen on a larger scale, are fascinating in their energy and abstraction,” Skove said. “And, side by side with Johnson’s traditional oil paintings, show how both mediums use color and patterning to communicate a vivid overall environment within a two-dimensional space.”