Ezra Johnson

January 12, 2007 - May 6, 2007

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What Visions Burn

DVD. 22:27 min. Courtesy of Kantor/Feuer Gallery, Los Angeles.

Ezra Johnson's new animated low-tech digital film, What Visions Burn (2006), uses lushly colored paintings and collaged figures to tell the story of a pair of art thieves in New York City. The animation is a laborious process, as Johnson paints and repaints the surface of his canvases to create each frame of the film, which uses visual elements and sound effects to narrate the scenario. Johnson's amusing depictions of the art world's many characters and his poetic representations of the city tell a story both romantic and unexpected.

About the Exhibition

By Jan Tumlir


The insistent call for a “pure cinema” built on the model of “pure painting” comes close to supplying experimental art film with a point of origin and a destiny, as well as a sound historical logic to connect them, although the question of just what constitutes purity at either end has yielded numerous conflicting replies. For many, it is the attention that has been paid to the irreducible attributes of painting in the most medium-specific sense that is to be followed. In the case of film, therefore, a whole other order of specificity would have to be found. Then there are those—like Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, and Harry Smith—who have applied the model of painting more literally, appropriating the technical means of painterly abstraction for filmic use, either by animating the painterly process one frame at a time with a rostrum camera setup or else by painting directly on celluloid. This second, more straightforward take on the matter can be traced all the way back to the work of the Italian Futurists Arnaldo Ginna and Bruno Corra, who are known to have hand-painted strips of raw film and projected the results as early as 1910—shortly after the emergence of cinema as such. It is within a Futurist manifesto from 1916 entitled “The Futurist Cinema” that the point is made unequivocally that “the cinema, being essentially visual, must above all fulfill the evolution of painting, detach itself from reality, from photography, from the graceful and solemn. It must become anti-graceful, deforming, impressionistic, synthetic, dynamic, free.”


This same string of adjectives could be used to describe Ezra Johnson’s painting-film What Visions Burn, which is surprising considering the very different cultural context that he inhabits. It would seem that the once-fierce opposition between the cultural margins and mainstream has largely been quelled, leading to a general relaxation of tensions in all matters of aesthetic “engagement.” The assignment of ideological values to formal terms such as “anti-graceful, deforming, impressionistic, etc.,” a once very nearly automatic operation, must now undergo continual reevaluation. More


Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, Fox Entertainment Group's Arts Development Fee, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, members of the Hammer Circle, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.

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