Location: Atom Gallery, London
Reconnaissance, a solo exhibition of silkscreen prints by Alexander Johnson will run from Saturday 1st April until Saturday 22nd April 2017. The Private View will be on Friday 31st March from 6-9pm. These silkscreen prints were inspired by the aerial intelligence photographs the artist’s father took as a Spitfire pilot between 1942 and the end of WW2.
Towards the end of his life Alexander’s father began to talk more about his RAF years and together they looked at a scrapbook of monochrome photographs; collaged fragments and offcuts that his father had painstakingly reassembled jigsaw-like after the war. The photos were top secret at the time, but the woman who developed the films in the dark-room noticed his father sneaking off-cuts from the floor and agreed he could take two pieces for every roll of film he brought her, so the collection began to get more structured. The photos were taken over Germany, Holland, the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa to provide intelligence for the allied forces. They are mainly photos of dockland areas, industrial centres and city street-plans. Alexander remembers seeing them for the first time by candle-light during the power cuts in 1973 when he was nine or ten. They made a big impression on him – he had never seen photos of the earth taken from the air before then. He never forgot them.
Seeing them again forty years later Alexander realised they were a gift to him as an artist which he needed to make use of. He began working from small sections of the photos and enlarged them, adding colour and reworking the patterns into abstract images. He picked out runways, ports, street patterns, railway tracks and coastlines, which you can see in the finished work. The titles reflect the purpose of the original photograph, where it was taken or what it was taken of. This work is an attempt to prevent the photos from being forgotten, continue the narrative about the lessons we need to learn from WW2 and to try and make something beautiful and lasting from a situation that was ugly and transient. Alexander has always felt his job as an artist is to tell the story of his own experiences and this is part of that process.
The silkscreens are hand-made in Alexander’s studio in small editions of 8 or less. Once an edition has sold out there can be no reprints as the stencils are washed away after printing – the editions are strictly limited.
Image credit: Alexander Johnson