Sir Michael Culme-Seymour: "How long did it take you to do that?"
William Johnstone: "Only ten minutes, I suppose, but it's taken me seventy years of looking."1
All major painters who have produced significant work in the abstract expressionist style have built on a long experience of working in more structured ways and William Johnstone is no exception. Evident in this superb collection of ink drawings of the 1970s, Johnstone has found metaphors for the awareness of the workings of the body and its interactions with the conscious and unconscious mind. Experience and emotion are contained within energetic and emergent configurations derived from the body’s subconscious knowledge of itself as it engages with the brush and the ink on the paper.
Beginning in the 1930s William Johnstone began to make abstract ink drawings which were influenced in part by the Native American sand paintings Johnstone had seen when he was working in California in the 1920, but also by the Surrealist ‘automatic’ drawings and Johnstone’s interest in children’s arts. Johnstone spent much of the late 1930s developing ideas on early education which culminated in his book Child Art to Man Art. The extraordinarily strong drawings of the early 1970s have developed these ideas in a powerful, refined and energetic way.
The eminent Austrian born British art theorist, Anton Ehrenzweig wrote “Johnstone’s calligraphic work first stood as something apart from his painting. But as time went on, it became more and more integrated with his more painterly work… Today, Johnstone’s loose calligraphy and his painting have become equivalent means of expression; this to my mind, is a sure sign of fruition and of final mastery over the medium.” These sentiments, made in 1959, are if anything even more true of Johnstone’s ink drawings of the 1970s.
1Christie’s Catalogue, The Studio of the Dr. William Johnstone OBE. Glasgow Thursday 12 April 1990, foreward by Sir Michael Culme-Seymour