Divergence Part 1 – Baden Johnson

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By the end of 1993, Baden Johnson returned to painting the landscape, utilizing aspects of thematic form and merging it to greater and lessor degrees with more traditional depictions. He also kept exploring performance art and developed a show incorporating New Epoch Art as well as physical theatre comedy. Baden had a passion for performing and after appearing in school plays had determined that he was either going to pursue an acting career or painting. That was the great appeal of New Epoch Art performance, being a platform where he could engage with both simultaneously. Toward the end of 1993 he became involved with Saint Martins Youth Arts Centre in South Yarra and work shopped some performance ideas with a young dancer looking to combine large scale NEA compositions with physical movement – constructing the paintings on stage incorporating painting, dance and assembling a stage set. It never got beyond about early planning stages but it had opened the door for Baden to look beyond “Extended Vision” in combining painting and theatre. His work at that time was exhibited at St Martin’s as “Recent Themes” works he described as inspired by Peter Graham’s Western Port era Notation paintings.

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In 1994 Baden used New Epoch paintings as props in a comedy act he developed for the Melbourne Fringe Festival performing at the National Theatre in St Kilda. In the 600 seat venue his 15 minute act used paintings as props to help tell the story of the tribulations of a starving artist. I didn’t get to see the show but Baden played me a video that impressed. In a short space of time he had honed his stagecraft and held the audience at attention. When he introduced his painting “Search” and then proceeded to place it against his face hand out in front as if above his eyes in the manner of a search, the audience responded with hearty laughter. In this way he managed to take his painting to a larger audience in a most unique fashion.

This experience in turn drew him toward participating in the stand up comedy circuit around Melbourne where he got paid gigs alongside the likes of Dave Hughes; Elliot Goblett and Merrick Watts culminating in an appearance at the 1995 Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall in a show called “Mixed Bag”. He worked night shift as a cleaner to afford the time during the day to develop his stage act. This endeavor came to an abrupt end on the eave of the 1996 Comedy festival with the death of his grandfather, an event that triggered another change in direction and he once again returned to the studio to develop new landscape paintings again incorporating thematic line and a series inspired by the John Lennon song “Across The Universe”.

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In 2000, Baden and I exhibited at the Charles Smith gallery in a show titled “woodlands and Wastelands” combining Baden’s lush green plain air paintings with my “hungry country” landscapes of central Victorian sheep paddocks. The show was well received and pointed once again to future collaborations. Personal loss of significant family members once again disrupted Baden’s course, but with his late mothers encouragement to keep painting, he once again embraced images of the landscape, but now with a broader focus on themes surrounding globalisation and our exploitation of natural resources.

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After seeing an exhibition by the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon, Baden painted religious paintings using abstraction and text on large scaled unstreatched canvas. “I wasn’t religious but I like the way he (Colin McCahon) told religious stories through painting. So I made a series of works that were later destroyed and recycled for my next series of landscapes. I did create a score from one of the paintings. An eye for an eye. They looked more abstract expressionist due to the scale, despite being purely thematic.”

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Author: crowcries

Euan Benjamin Graham I decided to become an artist when I was 14 years old in 1987. I have pursued my vocation with dedication and a complete single mindedness. Pictures are like people, they have their own life. I have embraced the streets recently as a venue because pictures need a lover, and artists become intolerably frustrated without an audience.

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