In Sue Johnson’s Paper Museum her striking paintings provide portraits of ethnological artefacts whose whereabouts is unknown. She places them where they jostle, nestle and otherwise interact with birds, fish and plants, all in empathetic shapes. The artefacts have been drawn from the catalogue of General Pitt- Rivers ‘second’ collection.
The show is composed of 15 pieces. In each Johnson has worked in gouache, water colour and pencil on textured paper to provide large, satisfying pieces. In Uncontained (above) the melon mimics the shapes of the artefacts that flank it, with the alarmed golden bird drawing the eye back to the centre of the piece. In Arabesque with Blue Lacquer Teapot, a stylised jay swoops low over a Chinese tea pot, the bird’s markings picking up the colour of the flowers on the pot. The optimism of each piece combined with Johnson’s mastery of detail reframes each artefact, allows one to explore facets that one otherwise might miss. As Jeremy Coote, Curator and Head of Joint Collections, said Johnson’s work provides “a sympathetic but different take that changes everyone’s way of seeing”. This is shown in Mirror, where a Greek cup decorated with a female face is paired with an inquisitive quail.
The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue and continues until June 10.