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Chris Johanson
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
San Jose, Calif.
American artist Chris Johanson is known for paintings, prints and drawings featuring abstracted, cartoon-like figures, often with text expressing biting social commentary, other abstract works without figures and very large sculptural installations. Johanson was born in San Jose in 1968 and grew up there. He attended De Anza College in Cupertino from 1987 to 1989, where he took classes in silk-screening and photography as well as liberal arts subjects. Johanson moved to San Francisco’s Mission district in July 1989, where he lived with friends from his teenage years and experienced the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Johanson attended classes at City College of San Francisco from 1989 through 1992, where his course work included drawing classes. Other than that minimal academic training, Johanson became a self-taught painter and sculptor. Also a surfer, skateboarder, musician and graffiti artist, he first exhibited his art at William Passarelli’s (ca. 1944-1993) Mission district gallery (called “Emmanuel Radnitzky Found Objects,” after Man Ray’s (1890-1976) given name) in a group show in 1990, “The Flower Show.” Later that year Passarelli gave Johanson his first solo exhibition, “Pictures and Words,” in the same gallery. Johanson began showing his works in other Mission district locations such as Adobe Books and the Four Walls gallery during the following years, often with the works of other graffiti and street artists like Barry McGee (b. 1966) and his wife Margaret Kilgallen (1967-2001). They were part of a group later called the “Mission School.” During the 1990s Johanson was also playing in a punk rock band. Johanson showed his work in a 1995 exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute’s gallery, although he was not a student there as McGee had been. Also that year gallerist Jack Hanley gave Johanson a solo show, initiating a long relationship that lasted until his last solo show at Hanley’s San Francisco gallery in 2008 and a group show there in 2010. In 1996 Johanson began showing works at Alleged Fine Arts in New York City. His work was included in “Bay Area Now,” the 1997 group exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and in a group show at the De Young Museum in 1999. He had a solo show at the UCLA Hammer Museum in 2001. A breakthrough for Johanson came in 2002 when Bay Area curator Lawrence R. Rinder (b. 1961) was named the chief curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Biennial and Rinder invited Johanson and several other Bay Area artists to show works in the exhibition. Johanson created an installation covering three stories of the Whitney’s main stairwell, made of wooden figures, buildings cars, freeways and other objects. Also that year he won a SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and exhibited at the museum with the other award winners and had a solo exhibition at Deitch Projects in New York City. Johanson began making aquatint etchings at Berkeley’s Paulson Press in 2002 with seven individual etchings and a portfolio of twelve etched images of figures in various poses. (He continued making prints at the Press in 2005, 2007 and 2014.) Having married fellow artist Johanna Jackson (b. 1972) in 2003, they moved to Portland, Oregon in 2004. His work was included in the 2004 traveling exhibition “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture,” organized by the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Johanson began exhibiting more in Europe, with solo shows in Glasgow, Scotland (2004), Brussels (2005), Copenhagen (2006) and Vienna (2007), as well as Portland (2007). Jackson and Johanson collaborated on exhibitions in San Francisco and Milan in 2007 and Minneapolis in 2008. His solo show at Deitch Projects in 2008, “Totalities,” featured a large structure that housed his abstract paintings and prints. The Mission school of artists, including Johanson, was featured in “Energy That Is All Around,” a 2013 survey of the group’s work from the 1990s to 2013 at the San Francisco Art Institute. Johanson is now represented by the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York City and the Altman Siegel gallery in San Francisco, each of which has mounted two solo shows of his work between 2011 and 2017. Johanson and his wife now live and work in Los Angeles. (TNB 6/2017) Selected bibliography: Nikas, Robert, Corrina Peipon and Julie Deamer. Chris Johanson. London: Phaidon Press, Ltd., 2013.