Keith Johnston’s minimalist works are spare, tonal arrangements of light and dark forms, with tentative whispers of drawings. He conceives the work on wood panel in encaustic, which is often scraped and reapplied, and then adds graphite. There are no preliminary sketches. He wants “to see the marking’s of the artist’s hand, the process of spontaneity, the economy—where subtlety, pitch, line or blocking, with the slightest of movement, can completely alter the work.” The simplicity of his paintings reflects this vision by the inherent significance attached to each line, shape or form, given the minimalist quality of the work.
His choice to use black and white intensifies the importance of line, form and composition as the central components of the painting. As stated by Jean McCartney, Director of Calvin Klein, Inc., “Johnston’s work relies upon evoking emotions and feeling, related not only to what appears on canvas—but as important, what he chooses to leave out.” In minimalist work such as Johnston’s, the void created by the absence of extraneous colors, lines, and details is equally significant in generating the ultimate feeling expressed by the piece. He aims to “convey a kind of energy … [that] this intensity will transmit to the viewer.”
Johnston lived and traveled extensively in Europe following his formal education, which he says “threw open my soul to the ultimate, living, breathing art history book, to take in daily, to feed on and digest.” This experience served as inspiration for him to develop a painting style that can be seen as a precursor to his current minimalist work. His early paintings were in a figurative tradition, but at the millennium he decided that a new century required “a new outlook: back to drawing, back to basics, back to black and white.”
Johnston received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1980. He first exhibited his paintings in New York City in 1995.