The idea is to maximize the attention span the reader/viewer has for the work of art, which I imagine to be equal, say, to that of a daily horoscope or beauty tip.–Larry Johnson
Los Angeles-based artist Larry Johnson trained as a painter, not a photographer, but incorporates both media into his text-based works. In the early 1980s he changed his practice from using texts borrowed from magazines such as People or TV Guide to authoring fictional narratives recounting the life-and-death dramas of celebrities such as Robert Kennedy and John Lennon. He paints these texts on banal backgrounds–color fields evoking the painterly abstraction of the 1950s. In presenting the works not as paintings but as photographs, Johnson is considered part of the 1980s Appropriationist movement, which includes artists such as Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, and Richard Prince. By combining text from pop culture and transforming the imagery into “high art,” his practice is akin to that of Andy Warhol.
Johnson’s work alludes to celebrity, pop culture archetypes, gay iconography, and the pervasiveness of the myth of Los Angeles and Hollywood in the national imagination. The names presented here are those of film stars–three were in The Misfits (1961) (Gable, Monroe, and Clift), and the other three starred in Rebel without a Cause (1955) (Dean, Wood, Mineo). Each of them died unexpectedly: Clark Gable of a heart attack; Marilyn Monroe of a drug overdose; Montgomery Clift of a heart attack; James Dean in a car crash; Natalie Wood drowned; Sal Mineo was stabbed to death. Their names, floating like film credits in a picture-perfect blue sky, evoke the immortality-as-commodity they’ve gained through their movies.