Evoking much with a little
David Johnstone is a young artist who is working in the long-founded English tradition of visionary landscape. Palmer, Blake and Paul Nash are his precursors in search of visions, though lately he has shaken off his obvious attachment to them and has begun to find some of his own mysterious symbols.
Landscape provides a metaphor for human emotions. The elements, stone, water , air and fire, brought together in a timeless, unsettled marriage mirror our own ambiguities. They hint also at what might be beyond their earthly principalities. From these sources David johnstone fires his own visions.
He works from imagination through memory. Places smoulder in his mind, their particularities expanding and receding as in a dream. Onto small pieces of paper he commits his visions. Like all visions their thought is expansive but in his best pictures he manages to be expansive in 20 or 30 square inches of space. In an age when big, if it is not better, is still more noticed, this compact art is in itself no mean achievement.
"High Down Dream" is a compelling little picture. The three scars meet the point of the wall at a place just hidden from us. The scars cut the down into crescents and together they form the talons of who knows what god or demon? The sky, typically overcast with storm or night, echoes the worn ruminating shape of the hill. High down is seen in its awareness of time's transcience. In David's mind it stirs like a gigantic hibernating reptile waking just long enough to remind us that it too lives.
To be visionary one must be able to allow one of those attributes which children have more of than most adults. I mean imagination. For a child the most terrifying dramas can take place in bits of the world where grown-ups would not deign a second glance. A stick and a puddle provide a whole ocean, a stir with the stick creates horrifying tidal waves and shipwreck on an unfriendly muddy shore where "enormous" beetles and snakes roam. For a visionary too the most ordinary sight may release the catch which open the doors of perception.
David johnstone has so far found that he has a growing fascination for certain landscapes. Old places, in which he feels a kindred spirit lurking, kindle his dreams and imaginings. Few of us are gifted with a visionary sense that may be summoned at will but most of us can recollect odd moments of mysterious reverie. These are the moments he seeks. Rarely does one find a formula to summon these moments; they come as they will. Visionary perception like knowledge grows (though for some like Palmer it faded too.) Occasionally it leaves a growing impression in a fertile imagination. Then a visionary picture can be born.
Visionary art is the kind of art which comes nearest to religion. David Johnstone's art is quarried from the lonely landscapes which have been untamed by people. It is there that he can find nature raw and visible.