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I’m F.I.N.E

barry johnson at 950 Gallery

Untitled painting by barry johnson. Photo courtesy 950 Gallery

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barry johnson's paintings at 950 Gallery are unlike art seen anywhere else in Tacoma. Judging from what I was told, johnson is self-taught and has been painting only five years. There is an amateurish quality to his paint application, which I suspect is more intentional than not, but his sensibility and his honesty are those of a seasoned professional.

johnson says the show is "built atop of the backbone of soul music from the past 30 years." He further describes the show as "life growing up in the '80s and '90s and the party lifestyle that accompanied it."

The gallery is jam-packed with paintings. Most are large portraits, presumably of family and friends. Some are painted directly on the walls, and some painted on canvas or other supports and hung on the walls. In the smaller front gallery hangs a group of figure paintings. The faces and clothing are painted with flat areas of lush colors with little or no modeling, and the backgrounds are colorful abstract patterns in flat geometric shapes. Painted directly on the walls around them are more geometric patterns that appear to be coming out from behind the paintings. At first glance -- until you notice the edges of the canvases -- the entire wall appears to be one large mural painted on the walls. There is a fascinating contrast and blending of positive and negative shapes on and around the paintings.

As you enter the larger gallery space, you'll see three large portrait heads to your right with chunks of wood, mirror and other materials glued onto the surface. The faces are almost featureless silhouettes, and the collaged materials interact with the shape of the faces in ways to make the spaces in between become positive abstract shapes. This is especially evident in the one with the chunk of mirror in the upper right corner.

Also in this larger room are a number of abstract paintings with zig-zag shapes and open spaces where the white of the wall bisects the paintings to create an interesting dance between inner and outer or positive and negative shapes.

There is one wall-size mural that differs from all the rest because instead of figures and faces, it is filled with cartoon ghost figures in a jazzy dance of bright colors. All of the shapes in this one are rounded, in contrast to the more angular and geometric shapes in all the other paintings. It is a joyful, celebratory image.

johnson's use of space and color is sensitive and strong. His colors are vibrant. His paint application tends toward crudity and sloppiness, but as indicated earlier, that looks to be intentional, as if he's making the point that precise painting skill is not the point. His sloppiness is, in fact, a celebration of the naturalness and exuberance of painting, although in a few of the paintings he's right on the edge of pushing the slap-dash quality right to the edge of bad painting.

I'm F.I.N.E, 1-5 p.m., Thursday (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Dec. 20, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,

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