Gallery Hopping: How Simen Johan Transforms Nature Into Fantasy at Yossi Milo

Johan is known for his enigmatic images of animals.

Simen Johan, Untitled #181, from the series
Simen Johan, Untitled #181, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.
Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #183</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #183, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

The raw power of the natural world is captured in Simen Johan‘s photography.

The artist, whose new show at New York’s Yossi Milo Gallery opens May 26, is known for his enigmatic images of animals. Johan is careful in selecting his subjects, pairing animals with exotic landscapes and dramatic lighting, and maximizing natural beauty through careful digital manipulation.

“I photograph most of my material candidly because when you’re dealing with animals and nature you’re only gonna get what you’re gonna get,” Johan told artnet News in an email. “Animals never look how you expect them to look or do what you want them to do, and there’s no controlling landscapes, weather, seasons or sunlight—and even if I did have this control, I never know what I want until I see it.”

Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #188</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #188, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

The resulting images are striking in their depth of emotion and narrative, and have an undeniable cinematic quality. Perhaps that’s why directors have taken note. One of his works, an image of a buffalo, appeared in the film “Wall Street” and we’ve heard that George Lucas has collected the artist’s work.) The artifice of Johan’s constructed landscapes isn’t always immediately apparent, causing the viewer to question the boundaries between reality and fantasy and fact and fiction in an utterly unsettling manner.

Playing with perception is part and parcel of the artist’s work. “Seamlessness is important to me for the same reason that you don’t want to see bad acting or a microphone popping into view when you’re watching a movie,” Johan explained. “However, I’m not pretending to be a documentarian, nor do I think people would confuse me as one.”

Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #181</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #181, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

In one memorable image, Johan sets a zebra from a California zoo in front of palm trees shot in Florida and Bali. “I like the artificial logic going on, where the zebras are camouflaged by incongruent foliage, as if that’s why zebras are striped,” he said. “In reality they’re plains animals and striped to confuse predators, so the image shifts the logic… as soon as we start questioning things, reality crumbles and we realize that things are not what they appear.”

In addition to the works in his series “Until the Kingdom Comes,” the show at Yossi Milo—his ninth exhibition with the gallery—will also feature new ceramic sculpture. “The sculptures originally grew out of a desire to make my exhibitions more immersive and atmospheric—to bring my work into the tangible world.”

The anthropomorphic works incorporate materials such as fabric and feathers in addition to clay, and are meant to represent, according to Johan, “the ancient part of us that evolved from water to land to two legs, and in a trillion years will look nothing like us.”

See more images from the exhibition below.

Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #186</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #186, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #187</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #187, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, <em>Untitled #182</em>, from the series "Until the Kingdom Comes" (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan, Untitled #182, from the series “Until the Kingdom Comes” (2015). © Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

© Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

© Simen Johan, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Simen Johan” is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery, 245 Tenth Avenue, May 26–August 10, 2016. Johan is also featured in “Another North: Landscape Reimagined” at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, May 6–August 6, 2016.


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