E L E M E N T S O F W A R
Siren. 100cm x 150cm. oil on Canvas
The building blocks of opposition are often revealed when the essential characteristics of armed conflict between different collectives are reduced to their most rudimentary parts. It is these fundamentals of conflict that inform the language of Elements of War.
I have spent the last two years experimenting with some of the key aspects of war in this body of work. It examines the identity of war and the nature of the human spirit when faced with propaganda, communication, adaptation, scarcity, innovation, and friction.
Surveillance. 120cm x 80cm. oil on Canvas
I examine tension-generating elements that lead to war, and also elements of everyday life that are so radically affected by war that it they are fundamentally transformed. Elements of War is not directly about war, or any particular conflict. Rather, it examines the common elements that arise in times of conflict.
Through the course of developing this experimental body of work, the theme of friction was especially prominent. Witnessing dramatically escalating western polarizing political tension over recent years has informed my observations, coupled with a Northern Irish childhood, sensing tensions of identity and mistrust lying semi-dormant under the surface of daily life.
'Known for his work on still life which deals with the subjects of life and death, Johnston’s new series presents a natural evolution in his artistic style. Seeking to make the ordinary extraordinary, Elements of War navigates the grim topic of war and presents it through objects familiar to the viewer, though imagined in a different context.
“War is a heavy subject matter, and I have tried to work in a way that is not disrespectful to war or its consequences,” said Johnston.“I wanted to approach it in a different way, with a little more light-heartedness to allow the audience converse with the work, to explore relationships and ideologies.”
CMYK. 60cm x 90cm. oil on Canvas
'A theme in Johnston’s work is propaganda and his ‘CMYK’ image portrays coloured guns in the shades of ink used in print media, as a comment on how information about war is conveyed. “It is about propaganda, some of it is miscommunication,” he said.
He is interested in the idea that everything we consume from the media is presented in a way that encourages a certain conclusion and asks whether we are being misinformed.'
Red Herring. 80cm x 80cm. oil on Canvas
Another work ‘Red Herring’ takes this further, with a sea bass atop a red rotary phone. It is symbolic of a nuclear button encased in plastic, and speaks to seeing the element of miscommunication, misdirection and covert speech.
This interest in the friction between opposing ideologies is a central theme in Johnston’s work, and he explores the idea that society is becoming more polarised, and that we are subconsciously exposed to the idea of choosing a side from childhood.
The Messenger. 50cm x 75cm. oil on canvas
Dispatcher. 50cm x 75cm. oil on canvas
Some of his works depict children’s toys, though morphed into something else entirely.
His work ‘The Messenger’ shows a Postman Pat van turned into a tank, and in another we see a Thomas the Tank Engine figurine with a gun attached. “It is a play on ‘them and us’. Even from a young age, we have different teams and different identities and sides.”
Johnston’s work aims to encourage a conversation about the elements that make up war, such as power, propaganda, resources and indeed the humans behind it – from those involved in creating the ammunition, to those with more of a direct hand. It comes at the topic in an indirect but still hard-hitting direction, which allows the audience to offer their own opinions on what is a very serious matter.
Johnston also comments on the lack of resources available in wartime, and the need to use objects designed for one purpose in another way. His ‘Support Backup’ shows an old bicycle with a shovel and a fire extinguisher attached. It becomes a make-do fire engine – one that cannot possibly perform its job as well as something designed for that purpose.'
Meet me @ Dawn. 90cm x 60cm. Oil on canvas
Mr Bomb. 100cm x 150cm. oil on canvas
Throne of Violence. 100cm x 100cm. oil on canvas
'The work in ‘Elements of War’, a solo exhibition by artist Stephen Johnston at Gormleys Fine Art uses a hyper-realist style to explore the relationship between humanity and our changing culture. Johnston places realistic figures and ordinary objects in unusual contexts, giving new meanings to familiar things while challenging observers’ perceptions of reality.'
Support. 100cm x 150cm. oil on canvas
'Quirky and thought provoking pieces by Stephen Johnson, from a body of work entitled Elements of War, navigate the grim topic of armed conflict through everyday objects. He’s represented by Gormley’s Fine Art.
Johnson has gained a reputation as one of Ireland’s most promising young artists having won a series of awards since his graduation from University of Ulster in 2011.'
Squeeze the trigger. 100cm x 150cm. oil on canvas
Petrol Bomb. 100cm x 70cm. oil on canvas
AK41 - 150cm x 80cm Acquisition by Arts Council of Northern Ireland for their Public Collection.
AK47. 150cm x 80cm. oil on canvas
Super Soaker. 120cm x 60cm. oil on canvas
Oil Gun. 60cm x 90cm. oil on canvas
Hot Lead. 76cm x 50cm. oil on canvas
Ammunition of a burning word. 80cm x 80cm. oil on canvas
War Horse. 120cm x 150cm. oil on canvas.
Authority. 50cm x 76cm. oil on canvas.
Aid. 50cm x 76cm. oil on canvas.
Satellite Phone. 100cm x 70cm. Oil on canvas
Missile. 120cm x 80cm. Oil on canvas
TNT. 50cm x 40cm. oil on Canvas
Body Guard. 90cm x 60cm. oil on Canvas