Untitled by Paul Johns


This article first appeared in The Press on 30 November 2005

Christchurch artist Paul Johns consistently surprises with his varied and experimental practice that has spanned nearly three decades. Currently Artist in Residence for 2005 at Tylee Cottage in Wanganui his work makes reference to the environs of Jerusalem (Hiruharama), a riverside settlement of the Wanganui River.

This work, purchased for the Christchurch Art Gallery Collection in 2004 was part of a 1998 exhibition I Want To Be Your Slave, in which the artist referenced Western art's representation of Christ and martyrs and saints. Johns though also gives a nod to Andy Warhol, whose photographs of the male figure dating from the 1980s reflected his obsession with the ideal representation of the male figure in art history.

Like Warhol before him, Johns consistently explores and turns cultural stereotypes around, and through this process is able to hint at underlying concepts and emotions, especially those linked with passion and eroticism. Here the artist imbues the floating, recumbent semi-naked figure with a contemporary fascination for sexuality and religion, entwined with questions of desire and vulnerability.

This allegorical image provokes the viewer to re-asses their position in relation to the gaze as it is an image in which man becomes the spectacle rather than being the spectator. The male nude, generally surrounded by taboo and silence, has the ability to participate in important debates about contemporary understandings of gender depiction. Beautiful, classical and seductive, this work confronts the fleeting nature of life and the ephemeral pleasures of the flesh. Johns constructs a dangerous compound of sex, death, saintliness, sensuality, fine art, pop art, reverence and irreverence that demands the gallery visitor query their own morals and values.

Paul Johns was born in Christchurch. He graduated from the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts with a Diploma in Fine Arts in 1974. He has exhibited regularly in group and solo exhibitions throughout New Zealand and is the recipient of awards and grants. He lives and works in Christchurch.

Jennifer Hay