Studio Notes: Day 11 (Part I)

Experiment is grey. I feel an irresistible force to get ‘clean’, to ‘take a vacation’.

It feels, 11 days in, that there is enough mess, enough work, enough experiment.

Now it’s the time to understand the impulse to sweep my ‘Welcome’ mat; time to understand relationships between discrete phenomena, such as a North Atlantic coastline and an untimely, painful malaise; time to paint ‘miniatures’; time to be decadent; time stop being concerned about my not caring—to attain a higher-order not caring: not caring about not caring.

The rain. The room
Vision. Lust non-lust.
Paradise. Class. Basement

This comforts me

This comforts me


I paint a small jelly to bring me comfort. It does.

I can make these all flowers.

I can hear still external thoughts, likes and dislikes…

Boooooooo! It’s raining today.

Studio Notes: Day 10

I cannot say I’m losing my mind, but rather my sense of practicality. What is practicality anyway? The cars with drivers stop at red lights by accident, or they do so intentionally but the result is the same

Bag and hand fusion tool

Bag and hand fusion tool


The mirror reflects everything perfectly only by accident. I use a plastic bag over my arm and the two things fuse into a tool, both by accident and intention.

I paint a blue-red abstraction, melting, spliced and lascivious. It becomes a pair of RAPID BLOODY EYES!

Studio Notes: Day 9

I touch up the “expressionistic mashing” from yesterday, as well as the earlier abstraction.

A delicate issue arises—clearly from externally induced thoughts: I’ve painted a severed corpse in front of a rainbow, and

My painting as organic holism

My painting as organic holism


I imagine hearing accusations from people that this painting sends a homophobic message, the depiction of a corpse in front of a pride symbol. I start thinking the paranoid thoughts obsessively, fearful that this painting would be seen this way and that it’s just plain ignorant to the issue. But then the realization comes to me that these are not symbols that I’ve painted. I do not care to symbolize anything (and, of course, to impart any level of homophobia). Rainbows and body parts exist unsymbolically in nature. My painting—as well as all painting intentionally devoid of symbols—IS nature. My painting is not radical juxtapositons, that is not my language, but rather it is organic holism.

I paint two women wearing hijabs in a red desert. It, again, is INTENDED unsymbolically. It can be whatever. There are no limits, no interpretations (I guess I agree with Max Beckmann a little), no actualization. The painting as anti-actualization. If one is impervious to nothing, one can outlast any version of hell.

Studio Notes: Day 8

Art can express thoughts that are available in verbal language but not aesthetically functional when expressed by the latter. The expression of an expletive is never graceful—that is, aesthetically functional—in verbal language, but in visual language there is possibility for this level and form of expression

Expressionstic mashing of the cute, representative, and brushy

Expressionstic mashing of the cute, representative, and brushy


At the studio I put detail on yesterday’s two abstractions. I create a severed-headed corpse and cute face landscape. I put a Jurassic tree in the landscape, an action which I had thought about a day earlier while I was walking down the street. The thought, more precisely, is putting paint down EXPRESSIONISTICALLY and mashing together the brushy, the painterly, the cute and the representative all in ONE.

Studio Notes: Day 6

I walk from 88th Street on the Upper East Side to the west side of Harlem and 125th Street, pick up supplies, then to the studio at 107th. Full sun, my skin rendered pink; I see a veiled mystic in Central Park. A trek replete with strangers and bumping into them.

A mystic in Central Park

A mystic in Central Park


I reach the studio and listen to Mozart’s 1st and 2nd. I make a painting which isn’t Cubist; rather, it’s a cabbage patch or a crop:

A “Cabbage Patch” or “Crop”, not Cubist

A “Cabbage Patch” or “Crop”, not Cubist


What if, when painting, it’s not my energy that matters, but only the making—only the making of the painting—NOT the style, NOT the concept, NOT the aesthetic, NOT even the relationship, just the making?

Studio Notes: Day 5

I touch up “Miami Beach”—I guess that’s the painting’s name. I think about other people quite a lot while filling in colors, and feel perturbed.

I try to remember: the painting is whatever I want it to be, my joyousness and nothing else!

“Miami Beach”

“Miami Beach”


I cover over the goth/hipster teenager portrait with some new cartoon style characters painted Cubist-wise. This painting looks more like the George Condo painting from the Met which I sought to emulate in Miami Beach.


I have quietly but consistently disqualified my painting techniques when they’re derived from another painter’s work. The reality is that the paintings with these appropriated techniques are still mine.

Studio Notes: Day 4

I come in to the studio early morning. The walk here from the Upper East Side was magic. There are several housing projects I pass by on my way; their expansive grass lawns have so much exotic, weedy growth. Worlds within worlds.

I have a puzzle to solve today: how to color the 3 figures in my Miami Beach panorama. I think of George Condo’s painting at the Met (“Rush Hour”): Cubist, a lot of white with flashes of pastel


I attack the painting with wet, sploshes of color, trying to keep palette muted and pastel. It is turning out more coloring-book, naïve and less dynamic or Cubist. It is, however, DIFFERENT.


Still trying to think less and avoid thoughts from outside sources—in other words, verbal thoughts. Rather, I want to go based on feel. Even if I work with phrases or concepts, “Cubist”, “Naïve”, “muted” etc., I carry them through feeling rather than practical thought.

Studio Notes: Day 3
  • Painting with less thoughts; purging judgements, tastes, plans and concepts

  • Painting with impressions—just impressions

  • Painting as pure aesthetic: impression, phenomena, sub-phenomena, sub-thinking

Today I draw a face—a man’s face with feathers and plants coming from the mouth. It looks like a Renaissance sculpture.

Eventually this face looks more like a Byzantine Madonna icon, the yellow ocre background resembling gold leaf. It grows to my distaste, wavering between a goth/hipster teenager. I leave it alone, facing the wall.

“Goth” Teen Painting, which I dislike…

“Goth” Teen Painting, which I dislike…


I decide larger-scale work, on canvas, heavily drawn, is calling me. I draw a panoramic “Miami Beach” scene with 3 figures, so far to my satisfaction.

“Miami Beach” sketch

“Miami Beach” sketch


I am still happy with my “Woman with Dog” from yesterday.

“Woman with Dog”

“Woman with Dog”

Studio Notes: Day 2

Something interesting today. I come to the studio feeling exhilarated. I tack up a piece of unstretched canvas on the wall and start to work with the nonsensical (to me, anyway) phrase in mind, “drawing without seeing”. I paint a woman holding a dog. She has an archaic smile; she is strange and normal all at once.

I can’t read or interpret this painting—can’t tell if it’s a fetish, a catharsis, or if it’s a prophecy.

I take the color palette from a Max Beckmann painting of a woman playing the guitar (“Vaudeville Act” at the Met). I research and learn that Beckmann did not like interpreting his art, at least vocally. He was remembered saying something feisty in reaction to a collector, who was asking for an interpretation of one of the artist’s triptychs he was collecting. His hostile remark went something like, “[the collector] can send back my painting if he wants an interpretation!” I can’t imagine being in a position to say such a thing.

Notes on a panel and preparatory sketch for “Woman with Dog”

Notes on a panel and preparatory sketch for “Woman with Dog”

Studio Notes: Day 1

I am documenting my process as I work in the new studio in Harlem:

Today I lay out all of my recent work on a large table. I am seeing the latest figures I’ve painted, gestural and expressionistic, and totally unlike the earlier cartoonish/graphic paintings. When I notice these beside the earlier paintings, I realize a hard tension between a meticulous, cartoon style and energetic, expressionist painting.

It’s not enough. There ought to be no hard tension. I see I can be more joyous. I can keep driving the expressive side of my painting, and keep laughing.

I paint two dogs. The first one is simple and powdery blue. I write on this one “Where did the dream go? Morning Dog”. The other dog is painted in childlike manner, and its paint is thick and crusty.

I paint two hand puppets, a kind of abstract, cartoonish painting. One is kawaii and the other is a Mega Man-like snake head. Typical Johnny Gross style—I am being too self-focused, I think.

“Handpuppets” in the top right corner

“Handpuppets” in the top right corner

Johnny Gross
Where is the Magic?

When a dog passes wind, somebody with a grease-laden mind laughs goonishly. Events happen like this happen every day, nowadays.
As time goes on, more and more the magical qualitative transcendence behind the dog’s passing wind goes unnoticed, goonishly laughed at.

Johnny Gross
Chopped dolphins opens soon!

“Chopped Dolphins”, a solo show of mine, will be opening on January 30 at 6pm. The exhibition is possible thanks to Toda Studio at 87 Richardson St, Floor 2, Suite 5, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Johnny Gross
Surgeon at LIC-A

“Surgeon” is on view. Opening reception on 10/6! Thanks to Long Island City Artists (LIC-A)! It will be a haunting lineup of artworks. See more

Johnny Gross
"Rhino and Poachers" at The Plaxall Gallery/LiCA

“Rhino and Poachers", is on view at The Plaxall Gallery/LiC-A. Opening Reception September 8, 2018. More info here

The painting addresses the issue of the black rhino being poached for its horn. In certain cultures, the rhino’s horn is believed to have medicinal and virile-endowing qualities. This belief is erroneous. Since hunting the rhino is illegal, poachers must act fast and therefore unscrupulously, taking no heed as to the animal’s welfare. For more regarding this travesty, see