Carol John’s Paintings Exude Happiness at {Poem 88}

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Carol John, flower bomb, 2014; oil on paper, 61.5 by 59 inches.]
Carol John, flower bomb, 2014; oil on paper, 61½ by 59 inches.

Oh,” Carol John’s exhibition of oil paintings and works on paper [on view through July 5], is a giant visual playground for the eyes. Flower bomb, for example, explodes all over the canvas with a striking Rastafarian color palette of reds, yellows, greens, and blacks, with an unexpected swatch of lavender to shake things up. Bomb shapes are lined up, ready for a big explosion of free expression onto other canvases in the series. A grid of color blocking grounds the image. Chrysanthemum shapes are front and center, yet hemmed in. In other paintings, these bubbly flower forms overflow their borders and seem to be having a lively dialogue with one another.

Carol John, numbers 1-18, untitled, 2014; oil on paper, 27.25 by 19.25 inches.
Carol John, untitled (numbers 1-18), 2014; oil on paper, 27¼ by 19¼ inches.

A grouping of 18 works on paper is at once graphic advertising, poster art, and psychedelic—their afterimages burned into my retina. This engaging group is full of splashes, clouds, trees, airplanes, teardrops, a palm tree, combs, yellow fish, greenery, and a charming house of “oh’s.” These are paintings meant for enjoyment, not deep analysis, and I’m content just living in the moment with these exuberant works.

Carol John, wheel of wow, 2014; oil on canvas, 71 by 118 inches.
Carol John, wheel of wow, 2014; oil on canvas, 71 by 118 inches.

Wheel of wow is my pick of the litter, with ice cream cones appearing alongside multicolored eyeballs that seem to peer into the painting’s sunny interior. The repetition of eyeballs brings to mind the work of Yayoi Kusama, while the color palette and shapes suggest the patterning of Beatriz Milhazes, and the use of flat, colorful symbols conjures up the fantasy world of Assume Vivid Astro Focus ( Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide-Pierson), but John, who lives in Athens and received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, has managed to create an experience that is solely her own. There seems to be some logical mathematical system to the placing of numerous eyeballs and combs. The eyeballs turn into Lego-like rectangular shapes with dots. It’s all toys and candy and I feel like I just took a handful of Prozac. The word play is snappy and fun, with white lettering spelling out “oh” throughout, somewhat hidden in the painting, with the text jumping out at you through pink pompon swirls.

Carol John, summer burst, 2014; oil on canvas, 51.5 by 51.5 inches.
Carol John, summer burst, 2014; oil on canvas, 51½ by 51½ inches.

In summer burst, John’s personal symbolism incorporates decals, tattoos, and Lisa Frank stickers, with teal combs missing teeth, Silly String-like swirls and rainbows shooting out of ice cream cones, all with a heavy dosing of Pepto-Bismol pink. In oh-petals, blues erupt from the center and botanical forms float in a sea of turquoise in the shade of Cleopatra’s eye shadow. I can’t help but think that these paintings would make smashing textiles. They feel like a vibrant orgasm, building and building until colors burst onto the canvas. I can almost hear Tropicália music playing in the background and the splashing of waves at a balmy beach in Brazil.

Re:Focus a photo exhibition on view at Swan Coach House in Atlanta through October 27

The large, imposing painting oh surprisingly is the most static in this colorful medley, coming across as more methodical than the others, but still loose and alive. The gallery is full of the energy of charged electrical currents, nods to Pop art and Op art. Johns makes fierce color choices and creates a tornado of blooms, petals, and shapes that resemble empty speech bubbles. What are they saying? Conversation is lost in a field of fresh cut grass greens. Teal lips grin widely, and when a painting is smiling at you, it’s difficult not to smile back.

Sherri Caudell, a poet and writer from Atlanta, is the new poetry editor of Loose Change magazine, published by WonderRoot.

Carol John, oh, 2014; oil on canvas, 71 by 118 inches.
Carol John, oh, 2014; oil on canvas, 71 by 118 inches.




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